By Glenn Townes
Journalists have long been sharply criticized and denounced for being biased and non-objective when writing about specific people, topics, and hot button issues. I have been questioned and accused of being slanted and unduly harsh in some of the articles and social commentaries I have penned over the years. I usually push aside the criticism and keep right on doing what I’m doing–writing about what I know, and perhaps with what some may call “a poison pen.”
A few weeks ago, I had a lengthy discussion with a former classmate on Facebook about politics and racism. While the forum remained cordial primarily and respectful—on both of our parts, the tone and direction of the conversation teetered on becoming virulent and mean-spirited. The former classmate is a solid, die-hard, and core supporter of Donald Trump. She is also supercritical of journalism and most journalists. Wow! Two things that always immediately raise my eyebrows, ire and adrenaline—politics, and journalism! I said, “Yeah, bring it on!!
She writes, “Glenn, congratulations on your success in journalism. However, I am most concerned about your objectivity when writing about some things.” She went on to say that she disagreed with most of what I had to say about politics and social issues. She was also unhappy about how race always seems to become a focal point of stories written by journalists of color, even when an event’s salient and critical issues may be unrelated to race. She highlighted a verbal spar between respected and long-time African American reporter April Ryan had with Trump during a heated press conference in 2018. Ryan had asked Trump about ongoing issues involving voter suppression. Trump attempted to trivialize and ignore the question. Ryan persisted and continued to ask her question. The heated exchange between the two went viral and became a hot topic on the morning talk shows. The fact that Ryan is African American and the Trump track record on nearly anyone or anything colorful has been subpar, disgraceful, and questionable for decades made the aggressive push by the reporter to get a response perfectly justified.
I explained to my former classmate that journalists should ask tough questions. Undoubtedly, some respondents may not like the questions, especially when they hit too close to home and may not fit into their plan or agenda. I also explained that there is such a thing called objective journalism based on fact. Sure, the standard news story addresses the basics of an event—who, what, where, when, why, and how. However, when a story is reported about someone that has a long, well-documented, fact-checked, and verified history of abhorrent or, at the very least, controversial behavior, the inclusion of that information in any story about the individual is perfectly acceptable and permissible. The person or his most ardent supporters may not like the info and be quick to dismiss it as being the overly used Trump term of “alternative facts and “fake news.” I also explained to the naive classmate that editorials and social commentaries express the opinions and views of the writer and is perfectly acceptable and permissible. The integrity and verbiage of objective journalism based on actuality remains solidly intact.
At any rate, I enjoyed the hearty discussion with my classmate. We agreed to disagree on some things. However, to her credit, she seemingly acquiesced to my steadfast and long-held argument that racism and discrimination are alive and well in the country—especially now. Initially, she questioned my assertions about racial injustice. She attempted to, in some ways, compare her uncomfortable experiences as the wife of a career military man with that of my life as an African American man. However, her tone and opinion seemed to shift when I asked, “You don’t think hatred, bigotry and racism still exist in our country? Why? What about George Floyd?” At that point, little else needed to be said. She and I remain marginal friends.