Can there be an objective newspaper

Journalism in the age of Trump : Fair, objective, neutral - that was once upon a time! Really?

There is one issue that unites right-wing populists in all countries. It is the contempt of the free press. The "mainstream media" are aloof and elitist, it is said, they spread "fake news" and are not interested in the interests of the working population.

In addition, most editors are left-wing liberal and have given up on the ideals of fair, objective and neutral reporting. Instead, they saw themselves as part of a culture war to enforce their values ​​with all their might.

It is not often that an editor of the “Spiegel” agrees with a central aspect of these reproaches. "The time of neutrality is over," writes Philipp Oehmke in a refreshingly open contribution to the debate. Because he does not mean that regretfully, but derives from it the right not to depict certain positions.

The view of having to show counter-arguments is "complacent and lazy". With the claim to journalistic fairness, space would be given to the most abstruse distortions of facts. Oehmke castigates "neutrality fanatics" and writes: "Anyone who always wants to create space for all positions makes it easy for himself and goes into moral indifference."

“Spiegel” is honored that it had another editor, Florian Gathmann, contradict it on the same day. As a journalist, approaching the world as impartially as possible is “more important than ever”. Precisely because journalists also have their own view, their own impressions and convictions, they have to be “as neutral as possible” in their work, writes Gathmann and recalls the motto of “Spiegel” founder Rudolf Augstein - “Say what is”.

There were protests against the print

The background to the controversy, which is by no means only being carried out within the Hamburg magazine, is the recent excitement in the "New York Times". There, the head of the opinion side, James Bennet, was urged to resign because he had published a guest post by the Republican Senator and Trump supporter Tom Cotton, who had called for the military to be used against violent anti-racism protesters. There were protests against the reprint of this position, both from readers and from hundreds of employees of the newspaper.

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Oehmke evaluates the uprising and the massive cancellation of subscriptions as a sign that "the readers may be further than the journalists in the executive suite". They just didn't want to read an article that advised the use of the military against their own people. The “mainstream media” are also required to “show their colors”.

It is clear that Trump and his followers are smirking and scornful commenting on the affair. The left apparently has a problem with freedom of expression. The matter is tricky, because in fact, since Trump, the spectrum of positions that are declared false in the liberal press, but which are perceived as tolerable, seems to have shrunk.

In the Trump era, democracy had become too fragile, writes Andrew Marantz in the "New Yorker", for it to be possible to insist any longer that a "marketplace of ideas" would somehow solve the problems. And he asks: "The open debate is a wonderful thing, but is it possible that defending this openness can blind you to clear and acute dangers?"

A touch of "journalistic cowardice"

Kathleen Parker, columnist for the Washington Post, strongly contradicts this: You don't need a lot of courage to join a gang, suppress an opinion or ruin a career, she writes. "But it takes a lot of courage to stand alone against a wave of pitchfork-wielding Twitter tyrants and defend the free exchange of ideas, even if some of them are bad."

Steven A. Holmes, who worked for the New York Times for 15 years, comments on the affair on CNN's website from a surprising perspective. The newspaper is proud of its diversity, he writes. Diversity in questions of ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation would be seen as enriching. But a variety of opinions cannot be tolerated. That has a touch of "journalistic cowardice".

Balance, objectivity, fairness, neutrality: journalists can only come close to these ideals. This works best through curiosity and openness. The fact that every author of a text has his own view of the world with his own influences is a rush. But to derive a legitimation from this to be allowed to throw the ideals overboard would be fatal. Editorial offices must also heed that the Latin verb “tolerare” means enduring the other, that is, enduring difference, which in extreme cases means enduring the difference.

Unpleasant things should be faded out

The guest post by Cotton, who is an influential voice within the Republican Party and seen as a possible presidential candidate, conveys an ideology that is representative of a large proportion of Trump's voters. That gives it newsworthiness. There are good reasons to think of this ideology as dangerous, cynical, cold and mean. But to believe that resentment no longer exists without those who spread it would be foolish.

It's absurd: in dozens of cases - from Kurt Tucholsky (“Soldiers Are Murderers”) to the Mohammed caricatures to “Charlie Hebdo” - the freedom of writers and journalists to hurt other people is rightly defended through polemics or satire, drawings or poems.

But when one's own value system is challenged by confrontation with another, all sorts of tactical considerations are brought into the field in order to be able to ignore the unpleasant. Media doesn't have to be for Donald Trump. But the fear of publishing anything that will play into the hands of this president is a bad journalistic leitmotif.

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