Exposing a dirty little secret of ideological journalism

Straight news reporting is not supposed to feature the reporter’s opinions. It’s a basic tenet of lower-level newswriting classes in journalism school.

But Andrew Fergsuon‘s latest “Press Man” column in Commentary exposes a common method reporters use to get around that restriction. The immediate object of Ferguson’s inquiry is National Public Radio’s “On The Media” program, hosted by Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone.

Any candid expression of opinion on the part of its hosts isn’t the OTM method. Their point of view is impressed upon the listener — inexorably, unendingly — by hints and indirection, as much by the things left out as the things dropped in. …

… When a “performance artist” invaded the [British Parliament’s Murdoch phone-hacking scandal] hearings and shoved a shaving-cream pie in Murdoch’s face, OTM found a left-wing activist to don the mantle of disinterested observer. He called the act “beautiful, elegant, appropriate.” I’d like to see him say that to Mrs. Murdoch.

Please note: Neither Gladstone nor Garfield said the pie-shoving was “elegant.” They’re just the impartial hosts who managed to find the only person on earth who would say that. …

… The OTM method is the liberalism that dare not speak its name. … Journalists used to call it the Witcover rule, after the political reporter Jules Witcover, who in the late 1960s was once reprimanded by his editors at the Los Angeles Times for injecting too much opinion into a news story. They sent him back for more interviews — not to provide balance, but to allow him to write his story in the words of others who shared his views, thus preserving himself unblemished by mere opinion.

This forum has addressed similar issues in the past when it has posed the question: Says who?

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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