Every media company claims to value diversity in its newsroom; most of them also lay claim to some kind of impartiality. Well, I’m sorry, but: This is one of those things where you have to choose. You can have one or the other, but you can’t have both.
For the record, Fusion is built on and defined by its diversity.
Impartiality, meanwhile, is an ideal whose time has gone. Imagine a political debate, perhaps in an old-fashioned chamber like Britain’s Houses of Parliament. Facing each other across the aisle are two middle-aged white men, wearing suits and ties. You can look from one to the other and back again, and have no real idea what they believe in, what they stand for. Then they open their mouths, and lay out their respective political agendas, in a back-and-forth exchange. Up in the press gallery, a third middle-aged white man, also wearing a suit and tie, might privately agree with the man on the left, or he might be more partial to the arguments of the man on the right. But when he reports the debate, he puts his personal opinions to one side. He simply reports the facts of the debate, along with whatever facts on the ground might be germane. That man, up in the press gallery, is being impartial.
That is not the world we live in.
Today, the personal is political; identity politics is politics. Political stances aren’t just something that we choose to express when we open our mouths in a certain way; they’re a way of living in the world. If I am a gay Yemeni immigrant, or a black trans woman, or a Muslim trans man who’s a survivor of sexual assault, then to be open and unapologetic about my identity is to be a partisan in the most urgent political debates of the day. As Lewis Wallace puts it:
Neutrality isn’t real: Neutrality is impossible for me, and you should admit that it is for you, too. As a member of a marginalized community (I am transgender), I’ve never had the opportunity to pretend I can be “neutral.” After years of silence/denial about our existence, the media has finally picked up trans stories, but the nature of the debate is over whether or not we should be allowed to live and participate in society, use public facilities and expect not to be harassed, fired or even killed. Obviously, I can’t be neutral or centrist in a debate over my own humanity.
Wallace worked, until earlier this week, for the public-radio show Marketplace; he was fired for violating its code of ethics. Without litigating this particular case, one thing is clear: Faced with a difficult choice, Marketplace came down on the side of impartiality. That’s their prerogative, and they had every right to do so.
But let’s be clear about the message that such a policy sends to any genuinely diverse workforce. It says that who you are matters less than what you say; it says that diversity of voices must always be constrained by a blanket refusal to countenance charged political expression.
While facts are immutable, what is considered “political” is not set in stone. To live openly with one’s partner of the same sex may have been considered a political act decades ago, but not particularly of note in 2017. That black lives matter is, on its face, an uncontroversial truth, but saying that #BlackLivesMatter risks being considered unacceptably political. The result is that the more diverse an organization is, the more unavoidably political its employees are going to become, at some point or another.
These issues are largely theoretical for straight white cis men like myself. Sliding behind a veil of journalistic impartiality is no great hardship for us–in fact, it’s something we have a tendency to quietly congratulate ourselves on. Just look at how we rise above the fray! We are safe in our unthreatened identity. For us, being self-effacing is a little bit of a humblebrag: we get to bask in our privilege without calling any particular attention to it.
For our colleagues who are female, of color, and LGBTQ, however, the calculus is very different. For them, being self-effacing is to deny the fact that their own faces, their own bodies, are politically valent. Impartiality, for anybody but a white man, is literally self-defeating.
A news outlet like Fusion, then, can never be impartial. We are proud to be the voice of the resistance, the marginalized, the underrepresented. We tell the truth, including the truth about ourselves. We will not be censored, we shall not be silenced.