But there is also an impulse now among media critics to say claim victory over that newspaper tradition. Finally, they say, the media has discarded its mask of “objectivity” and its “view from nowhere,” and is calling it like it sees it. Jay Rosen makes a strong and nuanced version of this argument; you can find blunter versions all over twitter. In this view, reporters have finally gotten over their fantasies of balance and their timid refusal to call people “liar.”
I think the opposite is true, and that this cycle has vindicated that much-maligned tradition of trying to be fair, of avoiding speculation, of sticking to what you know. The best reporters in that newspaper tradition have always been adversarial in their approach, but modest in their claims to know for certain, most of the time, whose heart is purer, which health care policy is best, or which path to take in Syria. That tradition has an appropriately high bar to calling a candidate a “liar,” to printing profanity, and to invoking fascism.
I covered Kerry and Bush, McCain and Obama, Obama and Romney, and we hack political reporters were always under pressure from the knowing commentators on both sides to reveal that what they claimed we obviously knew but wouldn’t say — that they were lying about their tax plans, about their views on marriage, about their military service. (Also, that they were fascists, of course.) We hedged, described without judging, occasionally got too far out front and corrected. We were even skeptical of the mania for fact checks, which can sometimes stray confusingly into authentic policy disputes.