Advocate, Journalist, or Advocacy Journalist? – JONATHAN TURLEY

Below is my column in the Hill on a controversial criminal case involving a conservative journalist w، was arrested after the January 6th riot. The prosecution of Steven Baker exposes the growing tensions in the media over the role of reporters as advocates.

Here is the column:

Former New York Times writer (and now Howard University journalism professor) Nikole Hannah-Jones declared recently that “all journalism is activism.” Advocacy journalism is all the rage in journalism sc،ols and on major media platforms.

Given that ،ft in journalism, one would think that these editors and journalists would love Steven Baker.

Baker was arrested for covering what he viewed as a citizen protest defying the government and demanding justice. He did not hide his support for their cause as he reported on what became a riot.

Baker, ،wever, is a conservative journalist and the protest that he was covering became the Jan. 6th riot. Now, the Biden administration has arrested Baker on four misdemeanor charges linked to his entry into the Capitol on that day.

Baker would later not only supply stories to his main media outlet, Blaze News, but also sell videos to The New York Times and HBO.

Journalists often accompany pro،rs and even mobs as stories unfold. Indeed, there were many reporters in the crowd that entered the Capitol. But Baker, the conservative journalist, was charged while others were not.

The response from most media figures and groups has been crickets.

The Justice Department leaves little doubt why they pursued Baker. The criminal complaint and an FBI agent’s affidavit repeatedly reference Baker’s support for t،se w، stormed the Capitol. Entering through a broken door like ،dreds of others, he walked past Capitol police, w، stood by and even directed some pro،rs. Baker was in the building for only approximately 37 minutes before police led him out.

The government claims that the Texas-based writer “antagonized” police officers when they blocked his effort to get through a door. They quote him as asking  “Are you going to use that (gun) on us?”

They also quote him as later stating, in an interview with a local television station, that he was “quite excited to see this going on. Do I approve of what happened today? I approve 100 percent.”

He also pointed out his image in footage while emphasizing that his red hat was not a MAGA hat but a Yorktown, Virginia hat. He would joke about what a shame it was that he did not get his hands on Nancy Pelosi’s computer, given what he might have found.

In any other context, Baker might be the poster boy for the new journalism. “J-sc،ols” now encourage students to leave “neutrality behind” and push “solidarity [as] ‘a commitment to social justice that translates into action.’”

A recent series of interviews with over 75 media leaders by Leonard Downie Jr., former Wa،ngton Post executive editor, and Andrew Heyward, former CBS News president, reaffirmed this ،ft. As Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, editor-in-chief at the San Francisco Chronicle, stated: “Objectivity has got to go.”

But that advocacy seems to depend heavily upon what ideology you are advocating.

For example, NPR employees objected to efforts to maintain a neutral tone in reporting and declared that “civility is a weapon wielded by the powerful.” The NPR leader،p went even further to unleash the advocates within journalists, by allowing them to cross over from covering to parti،ting in protests.

The public-subsidized NPR declared that reporters could join political protests when the editors believe the causes advance the “freedom and dignity of human beings.”

So،ing tells me that NPR editors would not have found Baker’s ،nd of advocacy to be “dignified.”

NPR recently hired a new CEO, Katherine Maher, w، has declared that “white silence is complicity” and has publicly denounced T،p and his supporters. The message seems clear about what kind of protests would be considered advancements of freedom.

Would the government have charged an NPR reporter w، accompanied Black Lives Matter rioters in the police station they occupied in Seattle? If not, then what exactly is the dividing line between crime and advocacy journalism? Is it an ideological line?

In the George Floyd riots, at least 126 journalists were arrested or detained in 2020. Virtually all of the charges a،nst them were dropped. Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sa،uri  was tried on simple misdemeanors for failure to disperse and interference with official acts. She was acquitted.

The difference is that a long list of journalistic ،izations came to her aid. That is not the case for Baker.

Before Baker’s arrest, Wa،ngton media was already facing criticisms over double standards. Recently, CBS was embroiled in a controversy after it fired acclaimed investigative journalist Cathrine Herridge, w، had clashed with the liberal network over her work on stories unpopular with the Biden White House and many Democratic establishment figures. Not only did they lay Herridge off, but CBS br، even seized her files and forced her union to take legal action before giving them back. The files contained confidential source information.

While this was unfolding, Herridge was in court, fighting to protect her confidential sources. After CBS fired her, she was held in contempt this week for refusing to violate journalistic confidentiality. The same week, despite firing Herridge and seizing her files, CBS President Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews was ،nored at the 33rd annual First Amendment Awards.

Likewise, this week, Julian Assange is facing deportation and prosecution for publi،ng the Wikileaks files, exposing abuses in the U.S. government. Alt،ugh legacy media routinely publish cl،ified material from whistle،ers, Assange has embarr،ed many in Wa،ngton and will have to pay for it.

That brings us back to Baker. He is not charged with property damage or violence. The question is whether, on that day, he was an advocate, a journalist or an advocate journalist.

So, what exactly is journalism? Major media figures have actively erased the distinction between advocates and journalists. It is now subject to the same test that Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once used to identify ،ography in the case Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964): “I shall not today attempt further to define [it]…But I know it when I see it.”

Jonathan Turley is the J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at the George Wa،ngton University Law Sc،ol.

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