Commentary in IDEOLOGY and JoUrnalism

Jonathan Kay:

Ideological polarization has become a growing problem in many sectors of society. But it is especially corrosive to public discourse when it infects organizations whose traditional role has been to hold everyone else to account for the integrity of their reporting. We need those organizations to act as a sort of referee when journalists of any description—including those at Quillette—fail to exhibit high standards. This becomes impossible when they instead act as combatants in the culture wars.

Earlier this month, for example, the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), which describes itself as “the national voice of Canadian journalists,” “committed to protecting the public’s right to know,” and “dedicated to promoting excellence in journalism,” signed on to the claim that Canada is perpetuating an ongoing “genocide” against Indigenous people, and encouraged journalists to take on an activist role by promoting “decolonizing approaches to their work [and] publications in order to educate all Canadians about Indigenous women, girls & 2SLGBTQQIA people.” It hardly needs pointing out that this sort of explicit activist agenda—however well-intentioned—is completely incompatible with the project of objective journalism.

Meanwhile, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) now is apparently in the business of deplatforming mainstream pundits such as Christina Hoff Sommers. And an insider account of SPLC operations recently published in The New Yorker explains how the group has a built-in incentive to inflate the scope of “hate and bigotry” its researchers discover. “Though the center claimed to be effective in fighting extremism, ‘hate’ always continued to be on the rise, more dangerous than ever, with each year’s report on hate groups,” Bob Moser writes of his tenure at the organization. “‘The SPLC—making hate pay,’ we’d say.”

In recent years, this trend has come to infect the Columbia Journalism Review, which presents itself as “the intellectual leader in the rapidly changing world of journalism.” In the past, this self-branding was credible. And the CJR still publishes plenty of valuable articles about the world of journalism (such as this interesting survey of publicists’ opinions of journalists, by Andrew McCormick). But in some cases, the CJR has succumbed to the above-described trend, by which watchdog organizations that once prized themselves on fastidious neutrality now lend their voice to fashionable ideological postures.