The paradigm of journalistic objectivity, in which I was indoctrinated during the early decades of my now-ancient scribbling career, is in a world of hurt. Yes, it still exists, in several important places, especially metro newspapers. But the internet, talk radio and cable news (which were nonexistent or much less important when I started scribbling for a living in 1973) have fundamentally undermined the old system’s belief in neutral facticity, except on the editorial pages.
Fox News for the right and MSNBC for the left symbolize the new normal pretty well. I’m not saying Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow are equivalent in, let’s say, intellectual honesty. Hannity’s show is a place where intellectual honesty goes to die. But they do pretty well symbolize the new post-objectivity normal where the left and right can go to have their biases affirmed.
It’s daunting to try to imagine how a society divided between those networks can hope to find common ground. But it’s good to also point out and praise, on those networks with a clear partisan/ideological bias, the journalists who ask tough questions of all comers.
So I wanted to highlight an example of this from Wallace’s interview Sunday with Trump spokester Sarah Huckabee Sanders. You might almost feel bad for Sanders as Wallace, who was loaded for bear with incredibly relevant talking-point-demolishing facts, made some serious hash out of Sanders’ effort to invoke the threat of terrorism as one of the justifications for the Trump-beloved border wall-fence-barrier-curtain. Thus:
SANDERS: [President Trump] wants the wall and he wants a number of other things. We have a completely broken immigration system. We have national crisis, not just of safety and security, but a humanitarian crisis.
We have drugs, we have human traffickers, we have terrorists that come across our border and there has to be a stop to that and we want to do — not just the wall; certainly that’s one of the most important factors. We know that it works; we know that in the places that it’s been, it’s 95 percent effective….
WALLACE: Let’s talk about the wall. Because there is no question that there has been a big spike in the number of family units coming across the border. The president talks about terrorists potentially coming across the border. And here is Secretary of Homeland Security Nielsen. Take a look.
(VIDEO CLIP) KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: The CBP has stopped over 3,000 what we call “Special Interest Aliens” trying to come into the country in the southern border. Those are aliens who the intel community has identified are of concern. (END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: But Special Interest Aliens are just people who come from countries that have ever produced a terrorist. They’re not terrorists themselves. And the State Department says that there is, quote, their words: ‘no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico.’
SANDERS: We know that roughly, nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally, and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.
WALLACE: Wait, wait, wait — I know the statistic; I didn’t know you were going to use it. But I studied up on this. Do you know where those 4,000 people come — where they’re captured? Airports.SANDERS: Not always.
WALLACE: At airports.
SANDERS: Certainly a large number —
WALLACE: The State Department says there hasn’t been any terrorists that they’ve found coming across the southern border with Mexico.
SANDERS: It’s by air, it’s by land and it’s by sea. It’s all of the above. But one thing that you’re forgetting is that the most vulnerable point of entry that we have into this country is our southern border, and we have to protect it. And the more individuals that —
WALLACE: But they’re not coming across the southern border, Sarah. They’re coming and they’re being stopped at airports.
SANDERS: They’re coming a number of ways. They’re certainly — I’m not disagreeing with you that they’re coming through airports. I’m saying that they come by air, by land and by sea.
And the more and more that our border becomes vulnerable and the less and less that we spend time and money protecting it, the more that we’re going to have an influx, not just of terrorists but of human traffickers, drug inflow and people that are coming here to do American citizens harm.