To my fellow journalists covering the protests following George Floyd’s murder, I have an important request: don’t strive for “objectivity.”
I choose to put objective in quotation marks because I believe it is neither a possible nor desirable ideal.
Many days in the past week I’ve woken up to headlines like, “Minnesota’s governor said the police and National Guard had been overwhelmed by protests, which raged even after a former police officer was charged with murdering George Floyd” (New York Times).
I’ve nearly thrown my laptop reading ledes like, “A protest in Oakland Friday night over the police-custody death in Minneapolis of George Floyd devolved into chaos, with fires being set, windows smashed, police officers struck by thrown objects and tear gas and rubber bullets fired at protesters” (San Francisco Chronicle).
The Times reiterated a misinformed characterization of civil disobedience — that it’s senseless chaos rather than institutional disruption. And the Chronicle’s decision to write “police-custody death” instead of “murder” is typical of journalism that mobilizes official terminology, obscuring the reality of what happened — murder.
Objectivity is often equated with fairness and neutrality. But neutrality cannot exist within a power structure that is anything but neutral or fair. If being an objective journalist means adhering to the prevailing ideology of an unjust society, I want no part in it.
As journalists, it’s not our job to uphold the status quo.
It’s our job to provide a platform for people who for too long have been told their realities are biased and controversial.
It’s our job and perhaps our greatest responsibility to constantly redefine what is considered legitimate, to define what is opinion and what is fact.
It’s our job to center the narratives of Black, brown, queer, trans, undocumented, poor and disabled folks.
Headlines that portray the protests in Minneapolis and elsewhere as violent unrest feed into the narrative that the murders of Black people by police occur in isolated instances and without context.
“If you are calling for an end to this unrest, but you are not calling for an end to the conditions that created the unrest, you are a hypocrite,” said New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in an Instagram live video Saturday morning.
Centuries of structural racism created this unrest. Black people and others protesting George Floyd’s death did not. For journalists reporting on this, we damn well better make that distinction clear.