The debate over whether to bomb Syria feels just like run-up to the invasion of Iraq. It’s on a much smaller scale, and some of the facts are different. But the similarities are enough to make me think back to why I left mainstream journalism and openly embraced liberalism.
Mainstream journalism was once a comfortable fit for me. I grew up in a newspaperman’s household. My father spent three decades in the business, eventually rising to become an editor at major dailies. I started to follow that path, getting a journalism degree. I worked in public radio and TV journalism for about six-and-a-half years, mostly covering business issues and filing reports for a program called Marketplace and occasionally for NPR.
I long had a vague sense that something was wrong with the conservative story of the world and that I was more of a political, social, and economic liberal. But I was born in 1969. I grew up in Reagan’s America and in the decades of conservative ascendancy. The liberal vision and story had been under attack and in decline nearly my entire life.
I was also content to remain in non-partisan, “objective” journalism. Being a good, liberally educated person, it appealed to my need for evidence and multiple, contradictory voices. Also, having known a few journalists in my time, I think it’s a way to burnish your ego. There’s a pox on everyone else’s house, but hey, you’re an objective journalist. You’re better than all that.
Then, in the early 2000s, I was radicalized into politics by the Bush administration and the national media that enabled it.
I supported the war in Afghanistan as a way to bring to justice those who attacked us on 9/11. But after that, it’s obvious to me that the Bush administration was willing to do anything it could to get us into the war with Iraq, including lying and bullying. They also laid the ground work for the ongoing “War on Terror” – the endless war – with its drone attacks, privacy violations, and civil liberties abuses. For goodness sake, my country became a nation that systematically tortured people!
At the same time I saw the top practitioners – the so-called leaders – of my chosen profession of journalism roll over. They became cheerleaders to war. They covered torture with euphemisms. My pet theory is that they were overcome by fear. The places where these journalistic leaders lived – New York and Washington, D.C. – were attacked. Anyone would be afraid after that. But they were also supposed to have some professional distance. That turned out not to be so.
I gladly left mainstream journalism in 2006. I became a stay-at-home dad. I had every intention of doing some writing, but with my new political perspective, I still hadn’t sorted out what that would be.
Then along came the bursting of the housing bubble, the financial system crisis, the bailouts, and the ongoing economic crisis of unemployment and falling wages. To me, this has left naked the power the plutocrats. The wealthiest have recovered while the economic lives of most people in the country have stagnated.
So, due to war and economic collapse and the people who made it possible, I’ve become a liberal activist. Sometimes I felt like I had no choice. As the saying goes, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
So where does this leave me as a journalist? I would guess that the keepers of the profession would say I’ve gone beyond all redemption. They’d say you can’t openly espouse liberal values and causes and be a journalist.
I partly agree with that. Some journalism is just plain, old factual reporting. Sometimes you just want to know what someone said or what the numbers are, and you want to be confident that the details are reported faithfully. Also, evidence still matters to journalism. Journalists should demand evidence and be skeptical when they receive it. The rules of good journalism never change.
But meaningful journalism comes from a perspective – more specifically, from a moral perspective – from a perspective of what is right and wrong. This is true whether the moral perspective is openly acknowledged by the journalist or not. By writing this, I’m making my perspective clear. And from here, I hope I can start producing some journalism worth reading.