People who self-identify as conservative have long advocated the notion that “diversity of perspective” is important. I completely agree. Some of them have advanced the notion that intellectual diversity is the most important form thereof. I completely disagree – at least in our nation’s context. African Americans weren’t enslaved, sharecropped, strung from trees, beaten, denied the vote, segregated, over-policed, and discriminated against in every conceivable based on “diversity of thought”. Further, the ideological descendants of those who committed such atrocities are attempting to remix them into contemporary America.
In any case, as someone who has the privilege of being published weekly in one of the nation’s few extant Black-owned newspapers, I take seriously my responsibility to share my perspective with integrity, sound research, and thoughtful analysis. In short, I don’t take this platform for granted. Equally as important, I genuinely try to avoid confirmation bias. Recently, I listened with interest to A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, discuss his intention to guard against journalists engaging in what he called “one-sidedness”. Sulzberger rightfully believes that journalists, and the organizations for which they work, should prioritize diversity of perspective.
Unfortunately, Sulzberger appears to be in a no-win situation. Today’s conservatives tend to lack any respect for his newspaper, which they perceive to be “woke”, which is a catch-all term that refers to anything that conservatives don’t like. Sadly, many people on the left, including former NYT writers, believe that he is disingenuously pandering to potential subscribers or investors who are on the right. I choose to give Sulzberger the benefit of the doubt unless he proves that he is unworthy of it. (I especially applaud the fact that he is committed to “unequivocally and unapologetically” identifying lies.)
Obviously, journalists are human. They have biases, are fallible, and can allow emotion to override facts. Yet, the best ones are scrupulous in attempting to adhere to ethical standards. Among those standards are VIA – verification, independence, and accountability. When writing, broadcasting, or podcasting, journalists have a solemn duty to ensure the truth of what they share, to zealously avoid being beholden to any person or institution, and to take responsibility for the consequences of their work – regardless of their social and political leanings. (Walter Cronkite comes immediately to mind when considering such characteristics.)
Unfortunately, today’s media environment – traditional and social – actively militates against such standards. Political advocacy, especially from the far right, has substantially tainted the profession. (There are problems on the far left, but there is no liberal analog to Fox News, Newsmax, Epoch Times, et al.) Of course, I would point out that, while I occasionally wear glasses, they aren’t rose-colored; I’m fully aware that there have always been legitimate concerns regarding journalistic integrity. The difference today is that even the pretense of objectivity is often non-existent. Also, it is worth noting that state-run media organizations have long existed in left-leaning and in right-leaning totalitarian nations. That is a feature, not a bug.
To be clear, I am not a journalist; I am an essayist who fancies himself to be a pundit. (Importantly, writing is my vocation, not my livelihood.) While I take the requisite time to ensure that my columns are factual, I don’t pretend that my perspective is completely objective – and I adhere to VIA. Unlike journalists, my role is to share my opinions. To be sure, there are “opinion journalists” who are similar to pundits. From an integrity perspective, they should clearly identify themselves as such, or with related labels (i.e., “opinion writer”, “commentator”). Compounding the lack of political transparency is the fact that relatively few people today are taught to identify the difference between purposely advancing a particular political viewpoint as compared to actively trying to mitigate the inherent presence of personal biases – which our brains are hardwired to possess.
I have no desire to be lumped in with the so-called “talking heads” who haunt television studios and talk radio with the express goal of inflaming rather than informing. Given that the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have metastasized beyond all recognition, I actively shun being characterized as one or the other. As I’ve written previously, I am a proud “radical centrist”. Still, I am not naïve enough to think that whoever deigns to read what I write won’t try to force me into their political framework. That’s simply a vocational hazard.