Shortly after the influential Univision anchor and Mexican-American immigrant Jorge Ramos was removed from a press conference for confronting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Trump’s proposed immigration policy, many of Ramos’ colleagues in the profession denounced him as an activist and a “conflict junkie” who transgressed the conventional but relatively new journalistic imperative to keep his opinions to himself.

The video above shows a standing Ramos questioning Trump at a press conference in Iowa about Trump’s plan to forcibly deport 11 million people who live in the U.S. without proper documentation. Trump ignored Ramos at first, then scolded him for speaking out of turn. “Sit down” and “Go back to Univision,” Trump said. When Ramos refused to leave, one of Trump’s bodyguards physically removed him from the room.

Glenn Greenwald, former civil rights lawyer, longtime critic of the U.S. media, economic and political elite and co-founder of The Intercept, wrote of the incident: “As usual when someone commits a real act of journalism aimed at the most powerful in the U.S., those leading the charge against him are other journalists, who so tellingly regard actual journalism as a gauche and irreverent crime against those who wield the greatest power and thus merit the greatest deference.”

Among other examples, Greenwald pointed to a Washington Post article about the incident that equated Ramos to Trump, describing the journalist as a “conflict junkie, just like his latest target: Donald Trump.”

Greenwald continued: “The article twice suggested that Ramos’ behavior was something other than journalism, claiming that his advocacy of immigration reform ‘blurred the line between journalist and activist’ and that ‘by owning the issue of immigration, Ramos has also blurred the line between journalist and activist.’ That Ramos was acting more as an ‘activist’ than a ‘journalist’ was a commonly expressed criticism among media elites this morning.”

“Here we find, yet again,” Greenwald continued:

… the enforcement of unwritten, very recent, distinctively corporatized rules of supposed “neutrality” and faux objectivity which all Real Journalists must obey, upon pain of being expelled from the profession. A Good Journalist must pretend they have no opinions, feign utter indifference to the outcome of political debates, never take any sides, be utterly devoid of any human connection to or passion for the issues they cover, and most of all, have no role to play whatsoever in opposing even the most extreme injustices.

Thus: you do not call torture “torture” if the U.S. government falsely denies that it is; you do not say that the chronic shooting of unarmed black citizens by the police is a major problem since not everyone agrees that it is; and you do not object when a major presidential candidate stokes dangerous nativist resentments while demanding mass deportation of millions of people. These are the strictures that have utterly neutered American journalism, drained it of its vitality and core purpose, and ensured that it does little other than serve those who wield the greatest power and have the highest interest in preserving the status quo.

Greenwald reminded readers that “some of the most important and valuable moments in American journalism have come from the nation’s most influential journalists rejecting this cowardly demand that they take no position, from Edward R. Murrow’s brave 1954 denunciation of McCarthyism to Walter Cronkite’s 1968 refusal to treat the U.S. government’s lies about the Vietnam War as anything other than what they were. Does anyone doubt that today’s neutrality-über-alles journalists would denounce them as ‘activists’ for inappropriately ‘taking a side’?”

As Jack Shafer documented two years ago, crusading and “activist” journalism is centuries old and has a very noble heritage. The notion that journalists must be beacons of opinion-free, passion-devoid, staid, impotent neutrality is an extremely new one, the byproduct of the increasing corporatization of American journalism. That’s not hard to understand: One of the supreme values of large corporations is fear of offending anyone, particularly those in power, since that’s bad for business. The way that conflict-avoiding value is infused into the media outlets that these corporations own is to inculcate their journalists that their primary duty is to avoid offending anyone, especially those who wield power, which above all means never taking a clear position about anything, instead just serving as a mindless, uncritical vessel for “both sides,” what NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen has dubbed “the view from nowhere.” Whatever else that is, it is most certainly not a universal or long-standing principle of how journalism should be conducted. …

Ultimately, demands for “neutrality” and “objectivity” are little more than rules designed to shield those with the greatest power from meaningful challenge. As BuzzFeed’s Adam Serwer insightfully put it this morning, “‘Objective’ reporters were openly mocking Trump not that long ago, but Ramos has not reacted to Trump’s poll numbers with appropriate deference . . . . Just a reminder that what is considered objective reporting is intimately tied to power or the perception of power.” Expressing opinions that are in accord with, and which serve the interests of, those who wield the greatest political and economic power is always acceptable for the journalists who most tightly embrace the pretense of “neutrality”; it’s only when an opinion constitutes dissent or when it’s expressed with too little reverence for the most powerful does it cross the line into “activism” and “bias.”

Read Greenwald’s critique in full here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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