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Dear Dub: On Objective Journalism and Covering Trump

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Written by Emma Hennessy

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My parents met working as reporters at an NPR station, so in our home, it could always be assumed that one of two noises would be playing in the background: Ira Glass’ familiar nasal droning on our radio like an imperishable lawnmower or the rat-tat-tat of my mother and father engaged in a spitfire repartee, more often than not about journalism. I may have learned that the Buffalo Bills were a football team and not in fact a type of sandwich three weeks ago, but by thirteen years old, I had a strong position on the Watergate papers and who the best host of “All Things Considered” was (it’s Robert Siegel). And, until this most recent election cycle, I also thought I knew what I believed the purpose of journalism was. I saw it as an objective medium intended to proliferate truth when those in power can murky it, and one that above all else should seek to be unbiased and nonpartisan; it was Jack Nicholson wailing “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH,” fist in the air, and some plucky reporter, most often in my mind one of my parents, daring to take him to task.

But recently, this quest for constant objectivity has become a bit more tricky. Is being an objective journalist spending the same time covering each candidate in an election cycle? In that instance, as happened this year, one candidate’s email scandal received about the same media coverage as the other’s more numerous charges of things like corruption, tax evasion, and sexual assault, and in the process, their missteps were equated as equally deserving of the public’s revulsion and protest. Regardless of what one thinks about either of these politicians, Donald Trump made, and currently makes, more statements that are not based on factual evidence than Hillary Clinton does, which is a wimp’s way of saying he lies like a rug. It’s a fact. As a journalist, then, how do you cover people like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in an unbiased way when someone like Donald Trump inherently merits much more journalistic attention?

I do not want to go down the rabbit hole of objective truth, although I gladly will if you ever find me at the bar or I have had some whiskey, but I do think this year has forced us to consider how to have effective debates anymore when so many truths are no longer based on data. It’s Orwellian, for sure, very 1984, but I think there is credence to the claim that we have transitioned to a political world that is post-truth. Blatant lies are accepted as fact because of their emotional appeal instead of their evidence. As my favorite truthful reporter, Stephen Colbert, would say, truth now “just has to feel true to be true,” and Donald Trump’s truths don’t even have to do that.

Call me a romantic, but I would like to believe there are some things so sacred that as a country, we can all agree they are a given. Like for instance, the fact that pineapple does not taste good on pizza, it never will, and people really need to stop pretending that it ever will be; that the only people who put ice cubes in red wine are most definitely quasi-sociopaths; that Alexander Hamilton is the hottest founding father; that we have all cried sometime hearing “Landslide,” likely while in the shower; and some other self-evident truths, ones we should all accept, such as the fact that “all men [and ladies] are created equal.”

Are we all created equal? Is that truth even self-evident anymore? I would like to hope it is, but with the hateful rhetoric recently espoused in our country with the ferocity of a punctured passion fruit, it can now feel like this once truth is now an opinion. But the thing is, as any good journalist would argue, it is our duty as active citizens to dispel misinformation. Our founding fathers–and by those I mean Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Woodie Guthrie–would likely think hate and malevolence qualify as such. I guess it is up to each of us to decide if we agree with that sentiment, but I strongly feel we can each take some of those truths into the battlefield as absolute, and we have the right to duke out anyone who asserts that loving is an opinion or that being a decent human and neighbor is up to interpretation. Yeah, I think we should all have equal rights; want to fight me on that? And are you ready to fight too? Think they can’t handle the truth?

 

 

 

About the author

Emma Hennessy