By now you’ve probably heard about the flap with Juan Williams, whom NPR fired last week for remarks he made about Muslims on Fox News. Voices from the left and the right have denounced the firing as unfair. Eugene Robinson has gone so far as to call NPR’s response a pretext. I think the dust-up is a good opportunity for all of us to be reminded about news reporting and the myth of objectivity. Mika Brzezinski had it exactly right in her remarks on “Morning Joe” Friday morning. You can watch above or read below.
“I really think this sets a dangerous precedent, and I think we all need to look in the mirror because ‘objective’ journalism is changing. And I put the word objective in quotes because it never really was, okay. It never was. We are all people who have opinions and worldviews and political affiliations. And by the way, if you don’t, you shouldn’t be in this business because you don’t read. And I just don’t understand how someone’s personal feelings presented in a peaceful way can get him fired.”
She is absolutely right about this. There is no such thing as objectivity, and it ought not be set forth as an ideal for reporters. Whenever a journalist purports to be “objective,” I write them off as self-deluded, unprincipled, or both. If you’re a warm-bodied human with a functioning brain, you are going to have opinions about things. Reporters can’t escape their humanity, so the quest for objectivity is futile. Instead, journalists should strive to be fair while always scrutinizing their own reporting in light of their biases. The keys to good reporting, therefore, are self-knowledge and integrity, not objectivity.