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Should Political Journalists Vote?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2020

I was reading this NY Times piece on their policies for reporters and editors around impartiality and politics — “newsroom staff members may not participate in political advocacy, like volunteering for candidates’ campaigns or making contributions” — and ran across this from the paper’s chief White House correspondent, Peter Baker:

As reporters, our job is to observe, not participate, and so to that end, I don’t belong to any political party, I don’t belong to any non-journalism organization, I don’t support any candidate, I don’t give money to interest groups and I don’t vote.

I try hard not to take strong positions on public issues even in private, much to the frustration of friends and family. For me, it’s easier to stay out of the fray if I never make up my mind, even in the privacy of the kitchen or the voting booth, that one candidate is better than another, that one side is right and the other wrong.

And similar perspectives from a 2008 Politico piece. Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like a deeply weird approach — and ultimately an intellectually dishonest one. Not voting is taking a political position — a passive one perhaps, but a political position nonetheless.1 There’s no direct analogy to not voting or not taking private positions on political issues for other areas of reporting, but just imagine being a technology reporter who doesn’t own a mobile phone or computer because they don’t want to show favoritism towards Apple or Samsung, a food reporter who is unable to dine at restaurants outside of work, or a style reporter who can’t wear any clothes they didn’t make themselves. Absurd, right? We do live in an age of too much opinion dressed up as news, but pretending not to have opinions ultimately does harm to a public in need of useful contextual information.

  1. My history professor in college was fond of saying: “Everyone has a world view. Even if you don’t have a world view, that’s a world view, isn’t it?” His name was Dr. Janus, which seems super appropriate vis a vis that quote.