Jack Shafer has penned a deadly response to the likes of David Gregory and Andrew Ross Sorkin in Reuters entitled "From Tom Paine to Glenn Greenwald, we need partisan journalism."
In it, he makes the unimpeachable case for why activist, partisan journalism is an essential part of journalism in America, and how throughout our history, this has always been the case.
He sets up his righteous rant by beginning in this way:
I would sooner engage you in a week-long debate over which taxonomical subdivision the duck-billed platypus belongs to then spend a moment arguing whether Glenn Greenwald is a journalist or not, or whether an activist can be a journalist, or whether a journalist can be an activist, or how suspicious we should be of partisans in the newsroom.Shafer then goes on to do just that: demonstrate how activists can not just be journalists, but how partisan journalism has broken some of our nation's most important stories.
And his motivation for this demonstration comes from the likes of Gregory and Sorkin either asking, or even suggesting, that Glenn Greenwald should be arrested for his NSA-related journalism for the Guardian.
The reactions by Sorkin, Gregory, Todd, Pincus, Farhi, and others betray — dare I say it? — a sad devotion to the corporatist ideal of what journalism can be and — I don’t have any problem saying it — a painful lack of historical understanding of American journalism. You don’t have to be a scholar or a historian to appreciate the hundreds of flavors our journalism has come in over the centuries; just fan the pages of Christopher B. Daly’s book Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism for yourself. American journalism began in earnest as a rebellion against the state, and just about the only people asking if its practitioners belonged in jail were those beholden to the British overlords. Or consider the pamphleteers, most notably Tom Paine, whose unsigned screed Common Sense “shook the world,” as Daly put it.Shafer then spends paragraph after paragraph listing representative examples throughout our history of activist journalists whose work stand as pinnacles of the profession, from post-revolutionary journalist to the muckrakers to partisan civil rights reporters.
While I encourage you to read the whole thing, this selection is, in my opinion, his most deadly:
In the 1960s, the best opinionated, fact-based journalism appeared in such books as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963), Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death (1963), Michael Harrington’s The Other America (1963), and Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed (1965). The lefties at Ramparts magazine broke stories on Michigan State University fronting for the CIA (1966), the use of napalm in Vietnam (1966), and the CIA funding of the National Student Association (1967). Later revelations in the early to mid-1970s by the New York Times and the Washington Post (and others) about the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and intelligence agency abuses were, at their root, as partisan as any of the NSA investigations Glenn Greenwald has contributed.It is for this reason I, and so may others, find it maddening when Greenwald's work, as well as the work of progressive activists, are delegitimized for stemming from partisan roots.
Progressive activists have been some of our most important journalists, and the notion that one must be impartial in order to truly "do" journalism is patently absurd.
Shafer has done an excellent job of succinctly putting a historical face to such absurdity.