Jake Tapper on opinion journalism masquerading as news

I'm a longtime fan of Jake Tapper of CNN, and formerly of ABC News. I like that he asks tough but reasonable questions of politicians, regardless of which party they're in. I like that he reports and presents the news without his opinion. I like that he's not defensive when someone critiques his work. Defensiveness is something we all suffer from, but we journalists seem to have it worse than most. But Tapper, being a high profile reporter, gets a lot of criticism. Sometimes he responds to it by agreeing with the critique and modifying his wording or approach. Sometimes he explains why he disagrees with the critique. He engages with readers and he cares about getting good stories. I only wish we had more journalists of his type.

You can see examples of how GetReligion has written about his work and his response to criticism here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, herehere, here, herehere, here, here, and here. What's really striking about the frequency with which we write about his journalism is that he's not a reporter of religion but of politics. Almost all of the reporters we praise that frequently are religion reporters. Most of our criticism is probably levied at political reporters. He clearly has an interest in the role religion plays in politics, and that interest has paid off with solid stories and a devoted following among various news consumers.

He gave a brief interview to Robin Rose Parker at the Washington Post Magazine. I thought it worth noting. A few of his thoughts:

Most interviews that I do are not super aggressive. They can’t be, and they shouldn’t be; that would get pretty tiresome. So when there’s an interview that’s tough or a question that’s tough, it’s something that raises eyebrows. It’s not easy to do that in the White House briefing room, at a press conference. That’s never easy. It’s not fun. Because as humans we are built to try to avoid conflict. Society constantly looks down its nose at conflict, even if the media doesn’t. And it’s not a comfortable feeling. It’s absolutely nerve-racking. It’s much easier to be chummy with people in power. It’s much easier to ask softball questions, to not upset the apple cart. And that’s why most people, including me, don’t spend all of their time asking tough questions. But there are times when they are called for, and I think definitely they’re needed in politics, in political journalism.

He talks about how he appreciates those politicians that rise to the challenge of answering tough questions as well as those that understand it's his job to ask those questions. I particularly liked his concluding thoughts:

I’d like to think that people on both the left and the right think that I’m fair. The media keeps evolving in this way, where television channels and anchors and reporters pick sides. And that’s not healthy. One of the problems with the media landscape today is that there is a reluctance to get people who will ask tough questions even if they are fair, even if they are smart and serious and substantive questions. That’s why certain politicians from certain parties favor certain channels or reporters.

Believe me, there is nothing wrong with partisan journalism. That’s how journalism started; I’m not criticizing it for existing — it should exist. The issue is when it’s presented as, These are just the facts. That blurring of opinion and more factual journalism that doesn’t pick sides. It can be challenging if you are not in the business of reaffirming the worldview of more ideological viewers. But I think there is an audience of viewers and journalists and politicians who respect the need for anchors who you don’t know who they voted for for president.

Hear, hear. I worry about the effect on civil society when our media goes full partisan. Even if that trend seems inescapable, I hope we see some journalists resist it.

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