It is safe and painless to produce “balanced” news. It is very unsafe, as the best journalists will tell you, to produce the truth. The great journalists, like great preachers, care deeply about truth, which they seek to impart to their reader, listener or viewer, often at the cost of their careers.
“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’,” George Orwell wrote. “I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”
… some of the most able and talented journalists and editors in the country [at the NYT] … are besotted with their access to the powerful. They look at themselves as players, part of the inside elite. They went to the same elite colleges. They eat at the same restaurants. They go to the same parties and dinners. They live in the same exclusive neighbourhoods. Their children go to the same schools. They are, if one concedes that propaganda is a vital took for the power elite, important to the system.
But in the game of American journalism it is forbidden to feel. Journalists are told they must be clinical observers who interpret human reality through their eyes, not their hearts–and certainly not through their consciences. This is the deadly disease of American journalism. And it is the reason journalism in the United States has lost its moral core and its influence.
I keep my distance from the powerful. I distrust all sources of power regardless of their ideological orientation. I do not want to be their friend. I do not want to advise them or be part of their inner circle. The only benefit one gets from being a White House correspondent, as far as I can tell, is that the president knows your name.
Truth, at least as far as it can be discerned, is not comfortable or enjoyable to listen to, nor is the emotion and anger that accompanies all passionate assaults on lies and injustice. Sermons force those who hear them to be self-critical. They expose our inadequacies and failures. They demand that we become emotionally engaged. These are speakers and writers on he left and the right, including many preachers in pulpits, whose goal is to be admired and applauded. This is not my aim.
It is not pleasant to be disliked — and I have faced crowds that deeply dislike me and my message — but it is necessary if your commitment is to truth and the harnessing of emotional energy and passion against those who carry out injustice. I write not with anticipation of approval but often of hostility. And I write finally from the gut, not the head.
former foreign correspondent for the New York Times, in the introduction to his book The World as It is (New York: Nation Books, 2009)