RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
Yesterday on this program, we heard a story from London about the boisterous world of British newspapers and how they, unlike their American counterparts, openly embrace a point of view. Today, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik brings us an influential media critic who argues that mainstream American journalists do cling to their own ideology. It's not exactly on the right, not exactly on the left. He calls it the voice from nowhere.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: What with websites and cable talk shows, it's hardly as though opinions are hard to come by in today's media landscape.
(Soundbites of TV shows)
Mr. KEITH OLBERMANN (MSNBC): In exchange, we're selling out a principal campaign pledge and the people to whom and for whom...
Unidentified Man #1: They, on the other hand, are calling for a revolution...
Unidentified Woman: You know what? No. It's not...
Unidentified Man #2: That's all it's going to do.
Unidentified Woman: ...what we should be spending our time...
FOLKENFLIK: But media critic Jay Rosen says mainstream news reporters don't tell you what they think enough of the time.
Mr. JAY ROSEN (Media Critic): I'd like to know something about their background, like where they're from, who some of their heroes and villains are, any convictions - deeply held convictions - they've developed by reporting on the story over a long period of time.
FOLKENFLIK: Rosen is an associate professor of journalism at New York University. He says there would be a real benefit to such disclosure.
Mr. ROSEN: We can tell where the person is coming from and apply whatever discount rate we want to what they're saying. And I also think that it's more likely to generate trust. And this is the main reason I recommend here's where I'm coming from as a replacement for the view from nowhere.
FOLKENFLIK: The view from nowhere - that's the name Rosen gives to what he says is the media's true ideology, a way of falsely advertising that they can be trusted because they don't have any dog in the fight. For much of the conventional press that is, of course, crazy talk.
Mr. LEONARD DOWNIE (Former Executive Editor, Washington Post): I believe�The Washington Post�does make clear where we're coming from. Where we're coming from in our news gathering is no partisanship or ideology of any kind. We are transparent about where we're coming from. And our reporting speaks for itself. It is not coming from a point of view.
FOLKENFLIK: That's Leonard Downie, the�Post's former executive editor and a leading advocate of impartiality in reporting. He went so far as to not vote when he was editor. Downie says true objectivity is an unrealizable goal but that dedicated journalists working together can carry out vital watchdog reporting without carrying a brief for any particular side. It's that impartiality that allows readers to trust his paper, Downie says.
Mr. DOWNIE: I would be very disturbed if�The Washington Post�tomorrow became an avowedly conservative or avowedly liberal newspaper. But you make it seem like all we have to do is admit that's what we already are when, in fact, it would mean changing what we are.
FOLKENFLIK: So, for example, NBC News suspended opinion hosts Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough for failing to get approval to make contributions to political candidates. And NPR terminated the contract of former news analyst Juan Williams for repeatedly voicing personal views.
Downie and Rosen agree on one thing: The principle of impartiality is an accident of economics. A century ago there were several newspapers in every big city and each allied to a political faction, but as papers died off, the surviving dailies sought to strip blatant opinion out of their news pages to appeal to a wider audience.
But those values are under siege. Rosen points to the decision of Peter S. Goodman to leave his job as national economics correspondent for�The New York Times�to become business editor at the liberal Huffington Post. Goodman says he's less sure his shift represents anything so grand.
Mr. PETER S. GOODMAN (Business Editor, Huffington Post): I mean, this is not about ranting. It's not about getting individuals elected. It's about the same mission that I think has been part of quality journalism forever, which is uncovering truths that aren't always so easy to uncover.
FOLKENFLIK: Then again, Goodman says his reporters will have some liberties other might not.
Mr. GOODMAN: I don't want them feeling like they just have to hand - you know, well, these people said this and those people said that; here, dear reader -you know, you figure it out. I would like them engaged in a process of getting to a satisfying conclusion.
FOLKENFLIK: Conservatives have complained for years about what they see as a pervasive liberal sensibility in the media. This is different. Rosen says that view from nowhere too often limits political reporters to obsessing about winners and losers - who's up or down - rather than the harder work of determining who's telling the truth or the effects of the policies those politicians adopt.
Mr. ROSEN: Removing all bias from their reports is something professional journalists actually aren't very good at. And they shouldn't say that they can do this, because it's very clear to most of the people on the receiving end that they fail at this all the time.
FOLKENFLIK: Jay Rosen argues that journalists will rebuild trust only if they reveal their beliefs, not suppress them.
David Folkenflik, NPR News.