‘Without fear or favor’ could be an exception in journalism’s history

2244_Cover_Adolph.jpgSome 117 years ago, Adolph Ochs, who began his career in Knoxville before buying a newspaper in Chattanooga, published a set of principles for his newest newspaper in which he said it would “to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved.”

Ochs, but 38 at the time, wrote that in The New York Times. It was a winning business model. “Without fear or favor” became a journalism credo that served journalism and the business of media well for over 100 years.

But former Newsweek editor, Pulitzer Prize winner and historian Jon Meacham said the course Ochs set may turn out to be a brief exception for journalism. The media of the 1700s and 1800s was highly partisan and the media seems to be returning to those roots today. That is where revenue is flowing, Meacham said, and you go hunting “where the ducks are.”

Mecham’s comment was in response to a question about editor Francis Preston Blair following a speech he gave on President’s Day at a packed Bijou Theatre in Knoxville.

He didn’t mention them by name, but probably the biggest example of this trend are the news networks: Fox, MSNBC and CNN. CNN, which doesn’t align itself with either conservative or liberal political point of view, trails in the ratings to the other two, which have adopted strategies with strong political points of view.

Some suggest transparency is the new objectivity. Where do you see the ducks?

(A rare photo of Adolph Ochs, about the time he was beginning his career as a Knoxville journalist. Photo from Metro Pulse.)


  1. CNN “doesn’t align itself with either conservative or liberal political point of view”?!
    You’re joking, right?

  2. The market isn’t abandoning non-partisan news sources, the news sources are abandoning the pretense of being non-partisan because that mask has worn too thin. Before Journolist was exposed, I figured that the people in the media were trying to get to the truth and were failing in a very human manner (confirmation bias, etc.). However, the conceit that journalists are trying to be objective was exploded upon the discovery that not only are they not trying to objective, they are objectively trying to influence news coverage to favor their chosen political team.
    With a few individual exceptions (see: Jake Tapper, Sharyl Attkisson), the media have become enablers to their political tribe rather than watchdogs who speak truth to power. Compare the coverage of something as trivial as a drink of water by a senator in a speech (kept in the news for days; really?) versus the minimal coverage something as important as hundreds of guns intentionally sold to Mexican drug cartels without any plan to recover them; without any coordination, information sharing, or notification of the Mexican government; and with the exercise of executive privilege to hide documents pertaining to the operation.

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