Book review: A closer look at 'objectivity'

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"Just a Journalist: On the Press, Life, and the Spaces Between," by part-time Stockbridge resident Linda Greenhouse, is a thoroughly readable personal account and analysis of ground-breaking shifts in modern journalism.

Greenhouse is the Joseph Goldstein Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and a contributing op-ed columnist for The New York Times, where she covered the Supreme Court for decades. In the book, the ideals of objectivity, fair and balanced reporting, and unbiased notions of representation are observed through a more focused lens, looking at how the news media may better represent accuracy and clarity. At issue is the "objectivity norm," which, when practiced to a fault, can obfuscate and, at times, deliberately interfere with what is accurate and substantiated reporting.

"Just a Journalist" explores this question with an in-depth and personal narrative from the point of view of one who has entered this debate with courage and conviction. Greenhouse wishes to "illuminate" the "subject (of) the journalist as public and private citizen." But this thoughtful series of arguments really goes further to elucidate on how and why journalism has come to be more forthcoming in its readiness to label inaccuracies and deliberate distortions of fact. Greenhouse discusses her deep involvement in the evolving nature of journalism before and during the 2016 presidential campaign coverage and now amid the Trump era.

The backdrop for her professional stance on this debate involves two occasions when she publicly involved herself as a private citizen in political arenas. She, at one point, as a private citizen, attended a political rally and, 17 years later, while also a working journalist, gave a speech upon her receipt of the prestigious Radcliffe Medal in which she expressed personal political feelings. The delayed, but astonishing, backlash was strong and unnerving. Greenhouse's response to the pressure is refreshingly down-to-earth and eye-opening.

Her life in journalism has been self-assured, knowing that "objectivity" can often be an excuse for safe reliance on "official" sources and a "lack of self-awareness in the daily life of the newsroom." It is also a marvelous memoir of a very inspired career in journalism that reflects wisely on the important new role of journalism in the digital age: the need for context.

The outcomes of this issue for better practices in reporting are at first startling, the arguments by luminaries in the field fascinating, and in the end, when The New York Times labeled Donald Trump a "liar' in bold print not long after he was elected, support the author's long-held stance and has verified her as one of the most honest and conscientious pioneers of modern journalism.

Greenhouse will appear at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar at 3 p.m. today to read from and discuss her fascinating new book on journalism.

Colin Harrington is the Events Manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. Colin welcomes reader comments at charrington686@gmail.com

Read it

"Just a Journalist: On the Press, Life, and the Spaces Between"

By Linda Greenhouse

Publisher: Harvard University Press

Pages: 150


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