The View From Somewhere: Book and Podcast Launch
Thursday, Nov. 7, 6:30 p.m.
The Pinhook, 117 W. Main St., Durham
Lewis Raven Wallace didn’t come up with the idea that objectivity doesn’t exist—Freud, Einstein, Derrida, Picasso, and a few others did it first.
Wallace just got fired for it.
A week into Donald Trump’s presidency, Wallace, then a reporter at American Public Media’s Marketplace, wrote a personal blog—titled “Objectivity Is Dead, and I’m Okay with It”—grappling with fair reporting in the post-fact era. He was the only transgender journalist at Marketplace, perhaps the only transgender journalist on public radio, something he used to great effect to inform his reporting on marginalized communities. But now he had to report on an administration that invented its own version of the truth and tried to bully the press into going along.
“As a working journalist,” Wallace wrote, “I’ve been deeply questioning not just what our role is in this moment, but how we must change what we are doing to adapt to a government that believes in ‘alternative facts’ and thrives on lies, including the lie of white racial superiority. I also have the great privilege of working for a public media organization, one whose mission is to serve our listeners as opposed to corporations or the cult of clicks and shares.”
That privilege didn’t last long. A few hours later, Marketplace’s general manager ordered him to take down the post and suspended him from the air, telling him that it didn’t comport with unwritten rules about objectivity and neutrality. A few days later, he was terminated; Marketplace’s VP told him it was clear he wanted to do advocacy journalism, and that wasn’t what Marketplace was all about.
Wallace argues that this notion—that there is objective journalism and advocacy journalism, and these are completely separate things—creates a false binary.
In his new book, The View from Somewhere: Undoing the Myth of Journalistic Objectivity—released on November 12 by the University of Chicago Press—he shows that the news industry has used the unicorn of objectivity to control an entire class of professional labor for a century, and hence to control what journalists write about and what information readers consume. The book details a list of journalists who fought the tide and fiercely covered the most significant stories of their times: from abortion to lynching, the AIDS crisis to trans liberation.
The INDY recently spoke with Wallace, a Durham resident and contributing editor at Scalawag, both about the book and the precarious position in which journalism finds itself in the age of Trump. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
INDY: In the book, not only do you do away with objectivity, but you talk about liberation and justice for all. Why did you choose that kind of messaging?
LEWIS RAVEN WALLACE: Our message won’t land well with everyone, but that’s part of the point. People don’t change because they feel comfortable. There’s a degree of pushing on things that are going to feel uncomfortable. I think that if you really drill down on a concept like collective liberation, there’s a lot of journalists who want collective liberation and who believe in that. As we all know, you can be fired for articulating that in a mainstream journalism organization right now.
Historically, the people who have pushed the needle have been outside of mainstream news, and their coverage forced mainstream news to pick up the issues. How do we change the relationship between media and democracy and justice in the United States?
The political moment we’re in is one in which the capitalist structures of mainstream media are failing to protect the basic structures of democracy that we have had in place. Those structures have never served all of the people. They have never not been racist. They’ve never not been exclusive. In a sense, I think confronting those failings is not optional anymore.
Radical traditions originate in the most oppressed communities, because we have the most reasons to propose radical solutions. I think those radical solutions right now, and those histories I talk about in the book, can be really informative to folks who are looking around and saying, “This is not going well. What else has worked in the past? What else have people done?”
You decided not to include next steps, best practices, or more than a few general ideas about solving the problems you’ve identified. Why?
I was really, really resistant to talking about “solutions,” and that’s partly because I think that the solutions to the problems in the news industry are also the solutions to oppression more broadly. The questions and the problems that we’re facing in the news industry are really the questions and the problems of capitalism and democracy in the United States right now.
Oppressed people have always been creating platforms for ourselves and pushing back on the frameworks that oppress and exclude us. So, of course, people are already doing that in journalism. I think objectivity has been one of the big obstacles to collective action in that specific space.
Who’s working on solutions?
I think that’s on all of us. That’s the thing we’re trying to create, and those are the conversations that we’re trying to facilitate. If it already existed, we wouldn’t be talking about it needing to exist. That could look like pushing and engaging the media that already exists to be more representative, more equitable, more just, more liberation-minded, but that could also look like supporting and creating new things, new structures for distributing information. All of that work matters.
I think that the struggle for liberation never ends. I think one of the problems we’re facing right now is that those of us who grew up in the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy—to go bell hooks on you—are geared toward a consumer sort of approach, even to social justice. Basically, you sign up for the thing, you get the thing, and then you feel satisfied and better. It’s like a bag of chips, but equality.
In your book, you describe realizing something “deeply unsettling” during your 2016 political reporting: “White supremacy sometimes feels good.” Fighting for social change is notoriously difficult. Can it feel good, too?
I think it’s absolutely essential that the message get out that you can also feel good from being in solidarity with other people and being part of a community that loves you and that you know is going to support you, which is what I experienced when I got fired.
It still feels to me like it’s going to take courage for people to step out from a comfort zone, and it’s not going to be a feel-good process all the way through. Where’s that courage going to come from?
You’re going to get me to give some hippie shit I didn’t put in the book. We love each other, and through that love, we’re going to help each other become courageous. That’s the actual answer. Through that loving community, we make more space for people to be courageous. I really believe that. Everybody has that in them.
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