The Rise of Trump Shows the Danger and Sham of Compelled Journalistic 'Neutrality'

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The Rise of Trump Shows the Danger and Sham of Compelled Journalistic 'Neutrality'

(Screenshot: Fox News)

As Donald Trump’s campaign predictably moves from toxic rhetoric targeting the most marginalized minorities to threats and use of violence, there is a growing sense that American institutions have been too lax about resisting it. Political scientist Brendan Nyhan on Sunday posted a widely cited Twitter essay voicing this concern, arguing that “Trump’s rise represents a failure in American parties, media, and civic institutions — and they’re continuing to fail right now.” He added, “Someone could capture a major party [nomination] who endorses violence [and] few seem alarmed.”

Actually, many people are alarmed, but it is difficult to know that by observing media coverage, where little journalistic alarm over Trump is expressed. That’s because the rules of large media outlets — venerating faux objectivity over truth along with every other civic value — prohibit the sounding of any alarms. Under this framework of corporate journalism, to denounce Trump, or even to sound alarms about the dark forces he’s exploiting and unleashing, would not constitute journalism. To the contrary, such behavior is regarded as a violation of journalism. Such denunciations are scorned as opinion, activism, and bias: all the values that large media-owning corporations have posited as the antithesis of journalism in order to defang and neuter it as an adversarial force.

Just this morning, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik published a story describing the concern and even anger of some NPR executives and journalists over a column by longtime NPR commentator Cokie Roberts — the Beacon of Washington Centrism — that criticizes Trump. “NPR has a policy forbidding its journalists from taking public stances on political affairs,” he wrote. For any NPR reporter, Roberts’s statements — warning of the dangers of a Trump presidency — would be a clear violation of that policy.

An NPR vice president, Michael Oreskes, published an internal memo to NPR staff this morning highlighting Roberts’s non-reporting and non-employee role as a reason she would not be punished, but he pointedly noted, “If Cokie were still a member of NPR’s staff we would not have allowed that.” And in an interview that Oreskes “directed” Roberts to do this morning with Morning Edition host David Greene about the matter, the NPR host chided Roberts for expressing negative views of Trump, telling her:

Objectivity is so fundamental to what we do. Can you blame people like me for being a little disappointed to hear you come out and take a personal position on something like this in a campaign?

Imagine calling yourself a journalist, and then — as you watch an authoritarian politician get closer to power by threatening and unleashing violence and stoking the ugliest impulses — denouncing not that politician, but, rather, other journalists who warn of the dangers.

Read the rest at The Intercept.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth and latest book is, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. Prior to his collaboration with Pierre Omidyar, Glenn’s column was featured at Guardian US and Salon.  His previous books include: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the PowerfulGreat American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, a George Polk Award, and was on The Guardian team that won the Pulitzer Prize for public interest journalism in 2014.

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