Opinion Columnist at The New York Times
Leonard Downie, Jr.
Former Executive Editor of The Washington Post
Journalist; Executive Producer and Co-host of “On with Kara Swisher” podcast
Here is what we have in store this week:
• We debate whether staying objective suppresses viewpoints or keeps a journalist’s bias out of the news
• A closer look at how the public perceives journalists around the world
• Your Sunday reading list
Is the news you consume objective? Does it need to be?
These questions have swirled around our national debate in recent years. They have intensified in a culture where the American press has been called “the enemy of the people” and others question whether media outlets should use words like “lie” and “racist” in their stories. The same questions gained new meaning as the George Floyd protests and a racial reckoning rocked the nation’s newsrooms, prompting some journalists to ask whether objectivity was actually in the way of effective reporting. These questions spilled into private Slack messages and public Twitter screeds, at a time when tense battles playing out in newsrooms became the news.
Objectivity hasn’t always been a standard of American journalism. It only became a North Star about a century ago. And now it’s unclear whether the next generation of journalists will reach for it at all. They ask, “Objective by whose standards?” and wonder who benefits from objectivity: audiences… or a cohort of editors who are predominantly older, white, and male. Meanwhile, advocates of objectivity caution that a pivot away from the principle would prompt public trust in the media to plummet.
The stakes are high. The principles that newsrooms hold dear define what gets covered and how. Changing those values may shift how much the public trusts the press — for better or for worse — and, in turn, shape the media’s ability to combat misinformation or reach beyond echo chambers.
So today, we debate the question: Is Objectivity Essential to Journalism? Arguing “yes” is New York Times Opinion columnist Bret Stephens – who returns for his sixth debate. Arguing “no” is former Executive Editor of The Washington Post, Leonard Downie, Jr., who also serves as a professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Our guest moderator is Nayeema Raza, a New York Magazine journalist who executive produces and co-hosts the podcast “On with Kara Swisher.”
DEBATING THE DATA
How Can News Outlets Boost Their Readers’ Trust?
Is Objectivity Essential to Journalism?
“Objectivity is neither about knowing the truth nor ignoring the truth. It is about going about our business with the knowledge we may never know the full truth, but that we can offer our audiences accurate and relevant facts so they can make better-informed decisions.”
“Traditional journalism objectivity… often distorted reality. Traditional journalistic objectivity was a standard dictated over decades in the last century by white male editors in predominantly white male newsrooms, and it reinforced their own view of the world, which left an awful lot out until relatively recently.”
Leonard Downie, Jr.
WEEKLY POINTS OF VIEW
The AI Power Paradox
Ian Bremmer and Mustafa Suleyman | August 16, 2023
Watch Ian’s debate on whether China’s power has peaked
Your Questions About Covid-19, Answered by Dr. Leana Wen
Leana Wen | August 10, 2023
The Washington Post
Watch Leana’s debate on whether whether COVID booster shots are unethical
The Arc of Reform
Christopher Rufo | August 10, 2023
Watch Christopher’s debate on whether certain books should be banned in school
Court Slaps Down the FDA Again for Illegally Dropping Abortion Pill Rules
Thomas Jipping and Sarah Parshall Perry | August 21, 2023
Watch Thomas’s debate on the filibuster