H as the press lost its objectivity? Is news reporting dead? And have readers lost their nose to sniff out biased reporting?

Liberal media analyst and Trump critic Jay Rosen recently opined that political journalists in the United States are now operating under a “conflict” in their “code” because of a president who is “wholly unfit for the job.” For instance, Rosen says, Trump “isn’t good at anything a president has to do,” and “nothing he says can be trusted.” Therefore, says Rosen, who is a professor of journalism at New York University, reporters are in conflict when they must professionally report on the president’s dealings. “If nothing the president says can be trusted, reporting what the president says becomes absurd,” he wrote in September on his blog site, pressthink.org. “You can still do it, but it’s hard to respect what you are doing.” He concludes that reporters have come to resolve this conflict by “revising” their work a bit to turn it into “something that they can respect.”

Using Rosen’s thesis as a starting point, I moderated a panel discussion last week at the American Jewish Press Association conference in Los Angeles on the president and the press. With me were two journalists from the right and left: Joel Pollak, editor-at-large at the Breitbart News, and Juliet Lapidos, editor of the op-ed page at the Los Angeles Times.

Professional Bias

I asked them first whether they believed objectivity in the press expired during the 2016 election campaign and the election of Donald Trump.

“Yes,” Pollak answered bluntly. “There is nobody to revive it. It’s a frame that doesn’t fit anymore.” He said most people these days are getting their news from social media outlets and from their friends on Facebook — both biased sources of information. But media outlets are also biased, he said, while claiming to be fair and balanced. Breitbart, which makes no bones about its conservative and right-wing character, practices advocacy journalism, Pollak said. The site reports the facts, but chooses its stories and its point of view carefully. “When you want to find our bias, it’s usually in our story choices or what we choose to elevate to our front page,” he explained.

According to Lapidos, during the 2016 race, most journalists not only expected Hillary Clinton to win, but also wanted her to win, which resulted in biased reporting. This was bolstered by nearly every poll showing Hillary Clinton with a clear lead in the race. Lapidos added that reporters also attempted to shield themselves against a mistake they made in 2012 when they described the race between Republican Mitt Romney and incumbent Barack Obama as closer than it actually was. Still, Lapidos challenged the idea that objectivity in news reporting is dead, especially outside of Washington, D.C. “I think there is still a great deal of reporting that is fairly traditional and down the line,” she said. “Certainly journalists and editors have bias about stories they think are important, but I still think the mainstream media approaches things in a fundamentally different way than advocacy journalists do.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 686)