Journalists are increasingly under fire for joining political parties, signing petitions, donating to candidates, thinking twice before attending public rallies sponsored by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, for speaking engagements with advocacy groups.
Most reporters have a point of view, and news organizations try to impose policies, not just on politics but other community activities, too. For example, here is an excerpt from Reuters' policy:
"Outside work, Reuters respects the right (and in some countries the obligation) of staff to vote in elections and referendums and does not seek to interfere with that right. The company also recognises that staff enjoy certain fundamental freedoms as a result of their nationality or where they live. Reuters, however, expects journalistic staff in all branches of editorial to be keenly sensitive to the risk that their activities outside work may open their impartiality to questioning or create a perception of bias.... The Trust Principles and the values of unbiased journalism in deciding whether to donate to certain charitable causes or be active in the affairs of their community." [Emphasis added.]
NPR's policy was scrutinized after it sent a reminder about its code of ethics to editorial staff: "NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers, nor should they sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or contribute money to them. This restriction applies to the upcoming Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies."
NPR had to go on the defensive. "We are not violating the civil liberties of our employees," wrote Vivian Schiller, former NPR president. "We understand that our employees are citizens as well as journalists. Our policy is not intended to tell them how to live their lives, nor do we compel anyone to become a reporter or work for NPR. But when an individual decides to sign on with NPR as a journalist, he/she understands that comes with certain rules."
NPR's policy on political donations is equally problematic, encouraging a lack of transparency: "Since contributions to candidates are part of the public record, NPR journalists may not contribute to political campaigns, as doing so would call into question a journalist's impartiality."
Modern politics and ideological philosophies extend into many parts of life - protecting the environment, property ownership and taxation and making appeals, health care, religion, and education.
Could the next controls be telling journalists that they cannot send their children to certain schools, practice a faith, purchase a home in certain neighborhoods, seek certain health treatments, write novels, marry, invest, or search out hobbies and friends?
In his book Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism, media historian Eric Burns wrote about journalism circa the American Revolution and he warns that journalists and readers from that era "would be startled by, and perhaps not altogether approving of, the extent to which we have tamed the wildly inglorious impulses of their journalism."
Reporters may start an article with objectivity, but few end that same report with no attitude or opinion. An article lacking in persuasion, advice, analysis or, yes, even morality is not worth reading.
Every reporter has a point of view. It's not unusual for journalists to admit and monitor their biases, review counterarguments, and issues the hardest challenges on those they support. Perhaps it's impossible to avoid bias in journalism.
Photo of the Islamic Center of America of Detroit, largest mosque in the United States, courtesy of Dane Hillard and Wikimedia Commons