No one is surprised when reporters are found to have certain biases. We all have personal opinions. Some of us handle our biases better than others, of course. Here at GetReligion, we tend to worry about the lack of diversity in newsroom biases. So many reporters have similar educational and economic backgrounds and similar views on the contentious issues of the day. I’m not breaking any news here.
But what bothered me about the recent revelation of the biases of New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse was her defense that her biases didn’t represent her opinions but facts. It’s arrogant and does such a disservice to journalism when reporters think their unimportant little opinions are magically transformed into unquestionable facts.
Feel free to revisit what Linda “I am the Alpha and Omega of All Things Factual” Greenhouse said in her fact-based speech at Harvard.
What startles me, though, is Greenhouse’s curt and dismissive response to [Times public editor Byron] Calame, suggesting that she had merely engaged in “statements of fact,” and Levinson’s view that her comments fell easily — not barely, or reasonably, but easily — within that category.
Do you agree, dear readers? And what if she had made the following remarks:
My tears dried up, however, when I realized the strides that our generation had made. And that became even clearer when I reflected on our President’s signing of a bill that would permit interrogation of terror suspects, potentially saving many lives, while still offering a set of rules addressing and cabining the forms of permissible interrogation. And let’s not forget the renewed respect for unborn lives, the resistance to sexual license, and the belief that Christians are not banned from participation in the public square. … As I look toward the next chapter in my life, I feel a growing sense of obligation to resist the absurd influx of people over a non-existent “border” that some of our policy makers want to erase, and to do what I can to help those jobless American workers whose only offense is that they are willing to respect the immigration and employment laws of their own country.
I’m not asking whether you agree more with the first, actual set of Greenhouse’s remarks than with my fictional version. As it turns out, I’m more sympathetic to the first set of hyperbolic remarks than the second, but that’s beside the point. I’m just curious: Are the second set of remarks also “statements of fact?” Do Greenhouse’s defenders agree that they would be no more objectionable than the first set? And that neither set would raise questions about a reporter’s objectivity?
Much has been made over Greenhouse’s big-name journalism awards. Previous public editor Daniel Okrent said he’d received no complaints about her bias. Whether that proves that conservative readers have given up any hope of getting a fair shake at the Times or that Greenhouse has been transformed into a bias-free reporter is up to you. But I’ll make a similar claim: I don’t know a single reporter who would privately or publicly agree with Horwitz’s imaginary response. And that brings us right round to where we began. Our newsrooms need more diversity of thought.
How do we get there?