Saturday, August 27, 2005

Why shouldn't journalists reveal their politics?

One more thought about the piece on Hugh Hewitt in The New Yorker. Toward the end, writer Nicholas Lemann personally addresses Hewitt's (quite valid) point that by keeping their politics secret, mainstream journalists sow doubt about their motivations, preconceptions, etc., which are mostly liberal. Hewitt posits that this means the entire mainstream media enterprise is a just a liberal charade.

Lemann writes:
If Hewitt does write about me, he will surely ask me to reveal whom I voted for in the last Presidential election. I might as well get started with the transparency now. Although I do vote, I'm not going to tell him. Like the house of the Lord, journalism has many mansions, and the one Hewitt inhabits is surely one of them. But in another of the mansions, reportorial journalism, the object is different. One can be curious or not, fair-minded or not, intellectually honest in the use of evidence or not, empathetic or not, imprisoned by a perspective or not. For a reportorial journalist to announce his voting record is to undermine his work. It dishonors the struggle to do it right.

I don't quite follow this, and don't really buy it. And if I don't, Hewitt and a sizable segment of the population probably won't either. It's always awkward for the media to be withholding information. (Just ask Judy Miller.) We don't need to know everything about media people, such as what DVDs Lemann rents, where he buys his granola, or whatever (though David Brooks might find it interesting). His work - which defies easy ideological categorization - speaks for itself.

But voting and party registration do reveal something about the way he thinks about the world of politics and policy, which is what he's writing about. Why would disclosing them "dishonor the struggle to do it right"? It's information that may be relevant in judging whether the writer is "imprisoned by a perspective or not." The flip side, of course, is that the vote for Kerry (or Bush) becomes a way to unfairly dismiss the journalist in question as shilling for the Democrats or whatever, and his/her journalism as nothing more than propaganda. But that's already happening anyway. The current omerta approach has become a big problem - a little honesty might actually help.