by Maggie Gallagher, Nationally-Syndicated Columnist
Maggie Gallagher, the author and conservative Universal Press syndicated columnist for the New York Post, does not see herself as impartial, but clearly distinguishes herself as a journalist rather than an activist. Why? Because she embraces the notion of being fair and accurate to the facts, of maintaining distance from party or faction, of keeping an allegiance instead to readers, and of a belief that there is something called practical truth. In a sense, Gallagher offers a theory of journalism based not on impartiality but on the motive to inform honestly rather than manipulate.
"In what sense am I a journalist at all? It's a question that's important to me, because I do think that [I face] some of the same questions, not of impartiality exactly, but related questions that have to do with what is my relationship to my sources and to the events, and what is my relationship as a journalist to my audience. There are three criteria that I use and remind myself of in my ambition to remain a journalist, though one with a point of view.
"One is an ultimate commitment to the truth....None of us is God, but a commitment to the truth ... especially as an opinion journalist, means that I don't relate anything to my readers that I don't believe is true. That's the difference between a journalist and a propagandist. I don't seek to manipulate my audience. I seek to reveal, to convey to them the world as I see it within the limits of my understanding and with some sense, along with the conclusions of the pathways to those conclusions.
"The second related ideal that I live with in my work is fairness. Fairness is not the same thing as impartiality. One can be a partisan, an opinion journalist, and still believe that one has a high obligation to be fair to those with whom one disagrees. It's related to the sense of obligation to one's audience. Not to descend into propaganda means to accept that you have an obligation to report fairly and with particular scrupulousness, the opinions of those with whom you disagree ...
"Finally, ...I, as an opinion journalist feel a strong obligation to always speak as if I might persuade someone who disagrees with me. That is to say, I assume that the reason we are speaking at all is that there is some such thing as truth, that speaking to each other and listening to each other can help us turn this sort of random rush of events, interpret it in a way that gets us closer to the truth. The alternative way of speaking, which [talk radio people] often use, is really more akin to rallying the troops, preaching only to the choir, denouncing the evils of the world in such a way that anyone who doesn't agree with you already is going to find incomprehensible as well as unattractive. That really is the function of a propagandist, not a journalist.
"...The more a journalist views himself as a participant in the events and has a loyalty to sources, the less able he or she is to really consider himself a journalist. . . [And as an opinion journalist, which is to say you are emotionally invested in the outcome of the events] it becomes [even more] important ... to be open with the reader, to make it clear to the audience what your views are and what your biases are.
"....A journalist views himself as being in the service of the whole community. His audience is the whole community....
"That means, of course, there are always exceptions to the "no take side" rules. I don't know of any local news broadcast that is objective or impartial between, say, the criminal and the crime victim.
"Similarly, when we were at war felt there was no contradiction between objectivity and patriotism. Precisely because the whole community understood, as 99.9 percent of Americans, would be served by that point of view.
"....I think there's one other internal test you can use to determine whether or not you're staying within the boundaries of what can be fairly called journalism....I think it's possible to be an honest journalist and be loyal to a cause. It's really not possible to be an honest journalist and to be loyal to a person, a political party, or a faction....
"I say that [because of] my basic believe that there is some relationship between journalism and one's perception of the truth. One can believe that certain things. . . would be good for America and can openly state that, but to be loyal to a political party, a person or a faction means that you do not see your primary goal as commitment to speaking the truth to the people who are your audience. There's a fundamental conflict of loyalty there.
"One other point. The two kinds of diversity which we do need more of in newsrooms are, first of all, more religious diversity. Journalists are overwhelmingly secular and America is overwhelmingly not. And second, greater ideological diversity. We need this not just to be fair but in order to actually get the story to the community."