The best reporters bring a sharp eye and ear to their job, using their observations to find the truth and record it for posterity within the objective bounds of their professional creed.
Bad reporters talk more than listen and label their opinions facts, turning into partisan pundits of little use to discerning readers. The New York Times employs many such talkative pundits who allow their oft-liberal opinions to seep into their supposed news coverage.
To maintain the illusion of impartiality they hide behind insidious adjectives that belong on the opinion page or – at best – offset with that squirrely little “news analysis” label that allows a lazy reporter to get away with punditry.
Let’s take a close look at one recent story masquerading as news:
“Julián Castro, the former housing secretary who was the only Latino candidate in the Democratic primary, said Thursday he would end his bid for the presidency, capping a yearlong campaign where despite struggling in polls, he remained an enduring contender and policy pacesetter on immigration and fighting poverty,” breathlessly wrote New York Times’ reporters Jennifer Medina and Matt Stevens. “One of the most high-profile Latino Democrats ever to seek the party’s nomination, Mr. Castro left his stamp on the national conversation about border control and immigration reform,” they panted on.
Peruse the rest of the article and you come across a number of words that would have been quickly excised during a rudimentary edit at a college newspaper.
Just for fun, let’s go over each affront to fair and balanced journalism:
NYT: Julián Castro, the former housing secretary who was the only Latino candidate in the Democratic primary, said Thursday he would end his bid for the presidency, capping a yearlong campaign where despite struggling in polls, he remained an enduring contender and policy pacesetter on immigration and fighting poverty.
IFR: Putting aside how strange it is to label someone “enduring” who didn’t even make it to the first state’s nominating contest, it’s a word that doesn’t belong in a news article aside from a quote. Endurance is subjective.
Also, who crowned Mr. Castro as a policy pacesetter? Reporters ostensibly report the news…no journalism degree in the world – no matter how large a student loan backs it up – enables a reporter to decide who is and who is not a “pacesetter.” That’s the job of a political pundit – which is of course exactly what these reporters are.
NYT: Though he created some memorable moments as he championed progressive policy and challenged his rivals on the campaign trail, Mr. Castro was unable to break into the upper tier of a crowded primary field.
IFR: This sentence reads as if it was written by a 16-year-old high school reporter … Show, don’t tell is the mantra of professional reporters — good ones, anyway. These reporters do the opposite, telling us that Castro was “memorable” and a “champion of progressive policies.” Pick up the phone … call the Iowa Democratic Party chair and let him tell you whether Castro was a “champion” or not.
NYT: One of the most high-profile Latino Democrats ever to seek the party’s nomination, Mr. Castro left his stamp on the national conversation about border control and immigration reform
IFR: Aside from being a lazy cliche, the reporters once again mistake their opinions for fact. One would argue a candidate who never polled above 2% left his stamp on very little.
NYT: Mr. Castro, whose keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention rocketed him onto the national stage, also carved out substantive positions on core issues like housing, education, criminal justice and the economy, while developing unique and specific proposals on police reform, strengthening indigenous communities, protecting animals and eliminating lead poisoning.
IFR: I know, getting repetitive at this point. “Substantive” is not for reporters to judge and neither is it their job to decide what is “unique and specific.”
NYT: And his relentless focus on how to help the poor — encapsulated by a plan to end hunger — won him support from those who saw him as a fierce advocate for the underserved and underrepresented.
IFR: Relentless … so relentless that he quit before Iowa? Another embarrassing adjective used by reporters who either don’t know the standards of journalism or simply don’t care (hint: it’s the latter).
Why the obsessive focus on these insidious adjectives that wormed their way into this story about a minor failed presidential candidate? Because it’s just so … normal. The conventions of journalism – formerly taught (maybe no more?) in the halls of the overly expensive, publicly subsidized J-schools of America used to resound with the squeaking of red pens as they crossed out this and that unwarranted adjective placed by a silly student who thought his or her opinion was important enough to merit inclusion in the PUBLIC RECORD OF HISTORY.
But … no more. The editors don’t care. The reporters clearly don’t care. And importantly the liberal readers of the Times don’t care. They come for validation of their beliefs and find it.
There’s a great joke that goes like this: Two young fish are swimming along chatting about their day when an older fish swims by and says, “The water’s great today, huh?” … The two fish smile politely and keep swimming along in silence until finally one young fish turns to the other and says “What the hell is water?”
To save you, dear readers, from having to ferret out the point of this fable, I’ll just tell you: The reporters are the young fish. They are so steeped in bias and bad practices that they don’t even know how poorly they do at offering objective reports to the masses. If a journalist happens to stumble on this screed, they will emit a low snark-filled snort and think it’s just another conservative crank from middle America. They might be right about that — but we’re both right. I might be a crank but they are no journalists.
Now next time you’re reading a story and it just seems … off. Take a minute and identify all the weasley adjectives that don’t belong and you’ll see it immediately – another water report from a journalist who doesn’t know he or she is a fish.