The first review of Marty Baron’s forthcoming book is out, and I’m relieved. According to Kirkus Reviews, The Washington Post that Baron describes in “Collision of Power” is the same one I saw on display when I was visiting the Post and conducting interviews — including with Baron — in 2015 and ’16.
In “The Return of the Moguls,” I wrote about a news organization that had been reinvigorated by new owner Jeff Bezos (by his money, of course, but also by his energetic work on the consumer and technology side) and executive editor Baron, whose staff was relentless in exposing the truth about then-candidate Donald Trump’s fraudulent charity and, later, the existence of a tape on which he’s heard boasting about sexual assault. Most important, Bezos was described by everyone, including Baron, as respecting the independence of the newsroom and not interfering with editorial decisions.
So why am I relieved? Although it seemed unlikely, I harbored some worry that Baron was being overly diplomatic with me, and that now, after he’s retired from the Post, he was going to tell the world what it was really like to work for Bezos. The Kirkus review, though, makes it clear that there’s little distance between what Baron told me and what he’s written in “Collision of Power,” subtitled “Trump, Bezos, and The Washington Post.” According to Kirkus:
Although focused on metrics and finances, Bezos staunchly supported editorial independence and journalistic integrity, a stance that put him on a collision course with Donald Trump, who expected Bezos to rein in the Post’s coverage of him and his administration. When that did not happen, he unleashed the “raw abuse of power” for which he was notorious.
The review concludes that Baron has written “an impassioned argument for objective journalism.” This is going to prove controversial at a time when objectivity is under attack. But in an address at Brandeis University earlier this year, Baron defined objectivity in its truest, most Lippmann-esque form. It is, at its best, fair-minded, independent truth-seeking. It’s not quoting “both sides” and letting the poor reader try to figure it out.
“The idea is to be open-minded when we begin our research and to do that work as conscientiously as possible,” Baron said at Brandeis. “It demands a willingness to listen, an eagerness to learn — and an awareness that there is much for us to know.”
I’m not sure whether Baron would agree, but I’m going to take it a step further and argue that even opinion journalism can be objective if it’s undertaken in the right spirit. I tell my students that if they’re producing an opinion piece, they need to acknowledge differing views and inconvenient facts and address them. If they do that, then they’re being objective. After all, Walter Lippmann himself worked the opinion side of the street for most of his career.
Baron’s book comes out Oct. 3.