The War on Objectivity in American Journalism

In May 2021, a newly hired journalist at the Associated Press, a twenty-two-year-old Stanford graduate named Emily Wilder, began posting provocative musings on Twitter about fighting between Israel and Hamas. Wilder had not been assigned to write about the Middle East. She may have thought she was tweeting as a private citizen. But the Associated Press had just reminded its employees that they are prohibited “from openly expressing their opinions on political matters and other public issues,” as the wire service reported about her case, “for fear that could damage the news organization’s reputation for objectivity and jeopardize its many reporters around the world.” Two weeks on the job, Wilder had run afoul of one of her employer’s sacrosanct rules. But Wilder’s mistake was bigger than that. Not only was she failing to uphold journalistic objectivity by sounding off about a sensitive issue while still a cub reporter, she also derided the AP’s very commitment to objectivity. “‘Objectivity’ feels fickle when the basic terms we use to report news implicitly take a claim,” she tweeted, making an argument at once convoluted and sophomoric. “Using ‘israel’ but never ‘palestine,’ or ‘war’ but not ‘siege and occupation’ are political choices — yet media make those exact choices all the time without being flagged as biased.” Setting aside Wilder’s confusions about the Middle East — the AP does, for example, use the terms “occupation” and “siege” — her words showed no appreciation that editors at the Associated Press, as at most top-tier news outlets, think hard about and often revisit the content of their stylebooks: when to say “war” and when to say “occupation,” when to use “Palestine” and when to avoid it. It is precisely because of this diligence that the wire service is rarely “flagged as biased.” Most of us would

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