The line separating Koppel’s idea of fair journalism and the super-partisan variety practiced now may have been drawn on 9/11, when a certain absolutist and all-is-permitted atmosphere began to coalesce in the American public mind, a sense that old rules could no longer apply. When I started as a reporter years ago—we were known as “reporters,” never by the more pretentious “journalist”—I tried to use an adjective or an adverb now and then, in the wistful hope of making a story, well, colorful. The city editor, with a look of scorn, would ask, “Who do you think you are?” It was not for the reporter to characterize the facts of the story. He was to report them. Facts were sacrosanct—they had a hard-won integrity, an objective existence in the universe. They were to be approached with a certain scruffy reverence. Who was I to attach to them any adverb and adjective that happened to bubble up in my post-adolescent brain?
Today, opinion and dogmatic speculation are the currency of politics and journalism. Facts have become elusive or even unnecessary, except for, say, the body counts at mass shootings. Otherwise, the world is fluid and angry and ideological. Among other things, the new journalism—more theater than journalism, a slugfest of memes—is a lot easier to practice. Much of it, on either side, is little more than noise.