Journalistic outfits make a grave mistake by building their authority on the foundation of the View From Nowhere. I'll explain why as soon as Rosen makes one more point. "What authority there is in the position of viewlessness is unearned -- like the snooty guy who, when challenged, says, 'Madam, I have a PhD,'" he writes. "Real authority starts with reporting. Knowing your stuff, mastering your beat, being right on the facts, digging under the surface of things, calling around to find out what happened, verifying what you heard. 'I'm there, you're not, let me tell you about it.' Illuminating a murky situation because you understand it better than almost anyone. Doing the work! Having a track record, a reputation for reliability is part of it, too. But that comes from doing the work."
That ought to be the pitch that newspapers and public radio stations make to their audience. It might go something like this: "Yes, the field of journalism attracts more liberals than conservatives, more Occupy Wall Street participants than Tea Party ralliers, more urban dwellers than rural Americans, more college graduates than people without degrees, more Democrats than Republicans, more English majors than math majors, more secular people than religious people -- and although we value diversity of thought, experience and world view on our staff, the core of our value proposition is that we're accurate in our reporting, fair-minded in setting forth arguments and perspectives even when we don't agree with them, transparent about who we are, attune to our biases and constantly trying to account for them, and insistent that we be judged by our output, not our political or religious or ideological identity, or what we do on weekends. Judge us by our work, and if you challenge it in good faith we'll engage you."
It may seem like a good idea to avoid the "perception of bias" by insisting that media employees hide who they are from the audience. Perhaps it was once even tenable. It no longer is. To build your credibility on viewlessness is to concede, every time an employee of yours is shown to be a sentient, opinionated person, that your credibility has taken a hit. To tout and enforce your viewlessness is to hold your own reputation hostage to reality; it makes your credibility, the most valuable thing you have, vulnerable to every staffer's Tweet, or incriminating Facebook photograph, or inane James O'Keefe hidden video sting operation. She claims to be neutral, but look, while out at a dinner with friends we caught her on camera saying that she thinks Obama is a better president than was Bush. See! She was hiding her liberal views from us all along!
Who is even fooled at this point?
The American public understands who makes up the press corps, or more likely, has an exaggerated idea of how liberal it is precisely because the lack of transparency and pose of viewlessness seems conspiratorial. Is any reader of this article shocked or even mildly surprised that a Brooklyn-based freelance Web journalist working part time at a New York City public radio station held up a cardboard sign during an Occupy Wall Street protest? If that totally banal and predictable event is the thing that gets you upset as a journalistic manager, if you think that it is the threat to your program's credibility, you misunderstand the present media landscape.
THE SPECIFIC CASE: WHY WNYC WAS WRONG TO FIRE CAITLIN CURRAN
There is some behavior for which journalists deserve to be fired, things they shouldn't do if their day-to-day is covering a specific beat. There are signs that it would be inappropriate for any journalist to hold aloft in Times Square, even during her off hours. For example, "Let's Wage A Propaganda War Against Wall Street." Were I presiding over a journalistic organization, I'd fire anyone who publicly asserted or privately advocated subverting accuracy for a political cause.