Yet the Post ignores that crucial distinction, painting its social-media policy instead with a broad—and therefore reductive—brush. In that, it washes over the obvious: that credibility questions about large news organizations have largely been the result not of reporters having opinions, but of those reporters having opinions which they are then compelled to disguise. It’s a kind of institutionalized dishonesty—one made in good faith, to be sure, and one that, in the past, had some validity. But it’s also a relic of the days when a paper’s mandate was to be all things to all people—and thus to narrate the news, both comprehensive and generalized, in Olympian tones of universal authority.
Those days are quickly receding. And the Post seems to be aware of this. There’s an unmistakable defensiveness to the Post’s memo, a sensibility that says, essentially, ‘I’ll be nice to you if you promise to sit with me at lunch.’ Its message suggests that the paper—a paper that, for so long, executed its from-on-high authority with admirable aplomb—has, somewhere along the way, become congenitally afraid to offend.
And that, of course, has to do with a cultural context left unmentioned in the memo itself, but whose presence was well summed up by the Post ombudsman on Friday night: “many readers already view The Post with suspicion,” Andy Alexander noted, “and believe that the personal views of its reporters and editors influence the coverage.” Tweets that represent a point of view—a political one, in particular (though the Post has apparently decided that “political” bias is somehow on par with “racial, sexist, religious or other bias”)—could, Alexander continued, “provide ammunition.”
But: provide ammunition to whom? It’s telling that the memo—to engage in a bit of analysis that may be worthy of a Hughesian high-school English class—is expressed largely in the passive voice. There’s an unnamed bunch of selves out there—the haters, the bullies—whose power is apparently so obvious that it need merely be implied. And those characters are ready to use the revelation of the Post’s “biases” as “ammunition” in, apparently, a battle of perception. They are ready to enforce an old social order that emphasizes superficial stereotypes rather than individual personalities.
They are ready, in other words, to compromise the Post’s popularity via peer pressure itself. As David Carr pointed out, quite correctly, this morning: “Mainstream outlets who gag social media efforts are unilaterally disarming in the ongoing war for reader attention.”
And, so, the Post seems stuck—like the jock who also kinda likes to act in musicals, or the mathlete who secretly wants to be prom queen—between two social worlds: one that pays fealty to objectivity, and one that pays it to transparency. The paper’s problem, here, is not only its decision to conform to the strictures of the former world; it is also its assumption that the two worlds are mutually exclusive. In that, the Post has failed to follow the most obvious lesson of the true-to-you line of logic: The most popular kids are always the ones who don’t care about being popular in the first place.