Is “Safety” the new goal in journalism?

Nearly 300 reporters, editors, and other employees at the Wall Street Journal sent a letter to the publisher on Tuesday asserting the Opinion section’s “lack of fact-checking and transparency, and its  apparent disregard for evidence, undermine our readers’ trust and our ability to gain credibility with sources.”

So far, so good. One would hope that Opinion pieces in the WSJ are factual, although there’s not always agreement on “the facts.”

But the letter went on to criticize one opinion piece, “The Myth of Systemic Police Racism,” noting that “multiple employees of color publicly spoke out about the pain this Opinion piece caused them.”

Is this what it’s come to? Newspapers shouldn’t publish Opinion pieces that may make some staff feel discomfort.

This reminds me of the brouhaha over the New York Times’ Opinion section running an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) that called for the U.S. government to deploy military troops to deter looting amid protests sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A slew of New York Times reporters and editors revolted, claiming  in high dudgeon that the op-ed endangered their Black colleagues and contained factual errors.

Aggrieved Times staffers went so far as to tweet a screenshot of the piece’s headline captioned with the same phrase: “Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger.”

Even the staff’s unions jumped in, issuing a statement “…in response to a clear threat to the health and safety of journalists we represent.”

Nonsense!

This kind of overreaction is just another example of the current insistence of the fragile among us that society must focus on ensuring all people are “safe,” that their self-esteem isn’t damaged.

An op-ed pissed somebody off. Some reporters found an op-ed in their own newspaper objectionable. So what.

I spent 10 years as a reporter at The Oregonian. I disagreed, sometimes vehemently, with editorials and opinion pieces in the paper, but I never felt threatened by them.

Bari Weiss, a former writer and opinion editor at the New York Times, tied the turmoil over Cotton’s op-ed to a conflict between the “Old Guard” that “lives by a set of principles we can broadly call civil libertarianism” and a “New Guard” with “a different worldview” that endorses “ ‘safetyism’, in which the right of people to feel emotionally and psychologically safe trumps what were previously considered core liberal values, like free speech.”

“Heaven forbid an opinion on a newspaper’s op-ed page should offend someone,” wrote Washington Post  columnist Kathleen Parker.

Or as one the New York Times’ own columnists, Bret Stephens, put it, “As important as it is to try to keep people safe against genuine threats, it is not the duty of the paper to make people feel safe by refusing to publish a dismaying op-ed.”

Yes, being a reporter can be dangerous. Forty-nine journalists were killed in 2019, 57 were being held hostage and 389 were in prison, according to the non-profit group Reporters Without Borders.

murderedjournalist

Javier Valdez Cárdenas, 50, a veteran journalist who specialized in covering drug trafficking, was gunned down in broad daylight in Culiacán, the capital of Mexico’s northwestern state of Sinaloa.

But who was in imminent danger because Sen. Tom Cotton wrote an inflammatory op-ed?

The exaggerated sensitivity seen today on many college campuses is not modulating as students graduate. It is being retained as graduates enter the workforce.

Weiss thinks what’s going on at the New York Times is representative of what’s happening across all U.S. media.  “The civil war inside The New York Times between the (mostly young) wokes and the (mostly 40+) liberals is the same one raging inside other publications and companies across the country. The dynamic is always the same,” Weiss wrote on Twitter. “They assumed they shared that worldview with the young people they hired who called themselves liberals and progressives. But it was an incorrect assumption.”

 

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