Want uncontroversial reporting? Don’t call a real journalist.
Take for example Gary Lineker, a British sportscaster who recently became embroiled in a feud with his employer, the BBC. Lineker, who hosts Britain’s most popular soccer show Match of the Day, was suspended by the BBC after posting a tweet critical of the U.K. government’s proposed bill that would essentially make asylum illegal. The BBC claimed that Lineker’s tweet violated their strict journalistic impartiality rules, despite the fact that Lineker was simply sharing a personal opinion on a personal Twitter account.
The BBC eventually rescinded Linkeker’s suspension, but not before triggering an unprecedented media spectacle. All of Lineker’s fellow hosts of Match of the Day refused to take part in that week’s show, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA, the union for professional soccer players in Britain) instructed its members not to give interviews with the BBC and a whole host of other broadcasters and news outlets came out in support of Lineker.
The whole debacle raised several questions about the integrity of the BBC’s journalistic standards. But at the heart of the discussions was a focus on the importance of impartiality in journalism.
The BBC committed a fundamental error when it sought to hold its journalists to unobjectionable news analysis. There is no such thing. When journalists speak truth to power, when they cover important, sensitive events, they are failing their obligations if they strive to write only those opinions that no one disagrees with.
Similar questions have been asked in recent months of popular news outlets such as the New York Times, especially with regards to the paper’s opinion section. For instance, in February 2023, the Times came under heavy pressure for allegedly publishing biased articles about transgender and gender nonconforming people. Critics took to Twitter, pointing out that the New York Times “hypocritically” published opinions with conflicting views.
There was no hypocrisy. That’s the whole point of an open opinion section. In an active, healthy democracy, citizens should make their voices heard. When they disagree with news coverage, or with a guest opinion, they should respond.
The crux of all these arguments is simple: journalism is meant to challenge. Opinion reporting relies on engaging with the most controversial debates and issues in our society. You aren’t always going to agree with an opinion, nor should you. Some opinions may even make you angry or uncomfortable.
That’s the whole point. If we take our role seriously as “The Student Voice of Wabash College,” we serve as a public square for discourse and debate. Any student can send in opinion columns; we welcome them, and we encourage them.
Wabash encourages and teaches us to think critically and impartially. We truly thank all of our guest opinion writers this year. Thank you for engaging with the vital campus exchange of ideas.
And to our anonymous critics on YikYak: keep it up—we only encourage you to join the debate publicly with the rest of your Wabash brothers.