William C. Anderson: The Disregard of Power in Journalistic “Objectivity”

Images of the brutalized, dead, and dying can buy awards and recognition for journalists. When the opportunity presents itself, many rush to participate because they subscribe to the doctrine of redistributing pain as it is, not as it should be.

Hyperallergic, June 8, 2020

The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.

Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz), 1963

An intense debate is playing out about the sanctity of journalism and integrity of the profession. People are demanding that photojournalists shield the identity of protesters rising up around the country in response to police brutality. This has stirred up questions and concerns about the role of the media, and it’s raising questions about the nature of journalists’ assignments. What exactly are these protests in relation to the photographer? Does a moment like this not require people to think critically about journalistic ethics?

For four years during a period of escalating state violence, many journalists have done an amazing job keeping the public informed. Yet others have shown that they’re dedicated to acting as the untrustworthy fourth branch of government many suspect them of being. Any time things grow especially tense during a moment of repression, journalists who are committed to performative objectivity have chosen sides. Power makes it so, and ignoring its presence leads to the issues we see playing out before us in the wake of nationwide uprisings against police violence.

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