What the Juan Williams Fiasco Tells Us About Journalism

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We're reaching the saturation point on Juan Williams* (some takes from The Atlantic here, here, here), but this is a nice piece from Brian Stelter at the New York Times that places the story inside modern journalism trends, and the battle between objectivity and Voice Journalism:

NPR's decision on Wednesday to fire Juan Williams and Fox News Channel's decision on Thursday to give him a new contract put into sharp relief the two forms of journalism that compete every day for Americans' attention.

After dismissing Mr. Williams, who was one of its senior news analysts, NPR argued that he had violated the organization's belief in impartiality, a core tenet of modern American journalism. By renewing Mr. Williams's contract, Fox News showed its preference for point-of-view -- rather than the view-from-nowhere -- polemics. And it gave Fox news anchors and commentators an opportunity to jab NPR, the public radio organization that had long been a target of conservatives for what they perceived to be a liberal bias.

What NPR has discovered, however, is that few people in the World of Voice Journalism believe that objective news, or objective news decisions, are possible. (I don't listen to enough NPR to make any ruling.)

The radio network fired Williams for being too opinionated, but now it stands accused of reflecting a left-wing bias for firing Williams. Even if NPR's actions have to do entirely with upholding their own standards of objectivity, many members of the conservative press -- marinated, as many of us are, in left/right thinking -- assign bias and subjectivity to NPR's decision.

So this isn't merely a story about the rupture between impartial and partial news. It's also a story about how many members of the world of partial news believes that impartial news is impossible and that efforts to claim objectivity are usually fraudulent.

Read the full NYT story here.

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*FWIW, my take on Juan Williams is Adam Serwer's take: "I think firing people for things like this tends to chill the public discourse."

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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