My tolerance for twitter arguments is very limited, as they tend to swiftly devolve into either ad hominem, idiocy or dive down rabbit holes. That latter is what happened in a thread I read recently involving Wesley Lowery, Ben Smith and David Menschel, which I would link in all its glory but much of it seems to have vanished. By much of it, I mean Lowery’s twits, which were the more interesting ones.
Lowery remains of the view that objectivity in reporting is a myth, and that there is no such thing as an objective report. On that, he may be generally right, as we all carry biases and they are reflected in everything from our choice of what to write about to our choice of adjectives. But the next leg of his argument is where he goes astray. Because no one is objective, journalists should reject the notion of objective reporting, admit to their biases and indulge them. Or to put it in clearer context, if a reporter can’t be perfectly objective, then why even try to be objective at all?
This argument came to mind when my Arc Digital editor, Berny Belvedere, brought up a thread about the distinctions between two Atlantic writers, Conor Friedersdorf and Adam Serwer.
Absolutely shambolic thread that slimes @ throughout and fundamentally misunderstands the nature and role of objectivity in opinion writing. Completely embarrassing analysis here.
Just to be clear here about my biases, I think Berny is brilliant. I think Conor is great, if a little too nice to people who deserve to be treated less kindly. I’m ambivalent about Serwer, whose writing has often been illuminating when he chooses to try to be objective, but can also be polemic when he doesn’t.
What Berny was pointing at was a thread by someone named John Warner, who is not that John Warner but another one who has a blue check next to his twitter handle and teaches writing. Like me, Warner has biases and reveals them up front.
First, some disclosures. I think Friedersdorf is one of the lamest public writers on the Internet. Even when I agree with him, I wonder why he bothers writing. He blocks me here because I mocked him for not seeing the similarities between Jordan Petersen and The Secret.
Adam Serwer, on the other hand, is one of the most penetrating observers of America today. His coinage of “The cruelty is the point,” in describing the Trumpist Republican Party is cemented in history.
With that clear, Warner gets to his point.
Friedersdorf has to do some work to establish his objectivity, given the fact that he’s feuded with NH-J online and is blocked by her on Twitter, but he assures us he’s looking at the situation without animus. As far as the question of what happened to NH-J, I believe him.
This is part of a stream of twits explaining why Conor’s reaching the only possible correct conclusion, that Nikole Hannah-Jones was the victim of wrongful discrimination, is meaningless and Conor’s positioning himself as objective is merely posing.
Friedersdorf wants to be able to position himself as “objective” when examining these questions. If you see him on Twitter ever he’s constantly feuding with people who see through his pose, by debating technicalities. It’s tedious, and I’m glad he blocks me.
Warner, the teacher, then compares and contrasts.
In contrast to F’s attempt at “adjudication,” Serwer practices what I call “illumination.” He takes the treatment of NH-J and contextualizes as part of the larger question around the backlash to the 1619 Project and previous attempts at full histories of Black people in America.
Bringing this around to his pedagogy, Warner finally reaches the conclusion.
Friedersdorf positions himself as an "objective adjudicator." Serwer positions himself as an "invested illuminator." My preference is for the latter. I think attempting objectivity as a trap. I prefer fairness, accuracy, transparency as values. https://t.co/lRuKG4BzxI
— John Warner (@biblioracle) May 22, 2021
Is objectivity the evil, to be eschewed for lack of perfection, and bias the new virtue in journalism? Are you persuaded?