NBC News President Noah Oppenheim insists his network is not in the business of “advocacy journalism”.
In an interview with the Poynter Institute published Wednesday, Oppenheim said NBC News “defends the traditional approach to journalism fiercely” and that its mission is “to maintain common ground and be objective and non-partisan.”
“When we’re going to interview a national figure, whether it’s Vice President Harris or if it was Vice President Pence three years ago, we’re going to approach each of those interviews with the exact same mentality, that is- to say that these are the people who run our country,” Oppenheim told Tom Jones, senior reporter at Poynter. “They need to be held accountable. What are the hardest questions we should be asking to get there?”
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He added: “I still believe in that old-fashioned approach to journalism and being equally tough on both sides. And seeking the truth and the facts. Our mission is to enlighten, not to argue.”
Oppenheim was then asked about “advocacy journalism,” which he said “certainly has a place on the menu of offerings available around the world to people looking for it,” but not at NBC News.
“That’s not what we do, though. That’s not what NBC News does,” Oppenheim said.
The NBC boss went on to say that on various issues, like voting rights, advocacy is not the right approach, but rather “enlightenment.”
“I think we can cover it without taking sides in an overt way. I think audiences and readers are sophisticated enough when they read what’s going on to come to their own conclusions about whether it’s good or bad for our democracy,” Oppenheim told Jones.
Except that NBC News hasn’t necessarily practiced what Oppenheim preaches.
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Last month, the Peacock Network announced that it had hired Yamiche Alcindor as its Washington correspondent. Alcindor earned a reputation from critics for being a liberal activist between her overly hostile coverage of the Trump administration during her tenure at PBS and her over-the-top gushing for the Biden presidency.
Just this week, Alcindor went viral for praising President Biden following his marathon press conference, which was widely criticized by most media outlets.
“President Biden, in the longest press conference in presidential history, made news, pushed back on criticism, called out lies, took responsibility for mistakes he believed he had made, expressed surprise at the GOP, talked about foreign policy and didn’t take it out on reporters. Quite a change,” Alcindor tweeted, adding, “There’s so much to say about Pres Biden’s presser. Which sticks with me. skin is that he took responsibility for the mistakes he believes he made, expressed genuine frustration with COVID and its agenda being stalled by the GOP and Democrats, and answered tough questions without insulting people.”
In July, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt raised his eyebrows for saying “fairness is overrated.”
“I think it’s become clear that fairness is overrated…the idea that we should always give both sides equal weight and merit doesn’t reflect the world we find ourselves in,” Holt said as received a journalism award. “That the sun sets in the west is a fact. Any view to the contrary is not worth our time or attention…Decisions not to give equal time to unsubstantiated arguments are not a breach of journalistic responsibility or some kind of agenda, in fact, it’s just the opposite.”
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Holt added “providing an open platform for misinformation, for anyone to come forward and say what they want, especially when public health and safety issues are at stake, can be quite dangerous,” before stating that the duty of journalists is to be “fair to the truth.”
In 2018, “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd dedicated an entire show to the subject of climate change, but voiced his rejection of all climate change skeptics.
“We’re not going to debate climate change, whether it exists. The Earth is getting warmer. And human activity is a major cause, period. We’re not going to give climate deniers time. The science is settled , even if the political opinion is not,” Todd told viewers at the time.
Todd later defended his ban on climate change skeptics during an interview on “The Daily Show.”
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“We had a heated debate about taxes, this is the debate,” Todd told host Trevor Noah. “The debate is what are you doing that.”
“But not for climate change, why not? Noah asked.
“Well, I also didn’t invite anyone who didn’t believe in landing on the moon, and I also didn’t invite anyone who is from flat earth. Did It’s okay?” Todd replied
Noah continued to lobby NBC News’ political director, echoing critics who say “the press should give everyone an equal voice.”
“It’s – no,” Todd replied. “Our job is to be fair. Our job is to be fair to the facts that exist. How do we mitigate climate change? for that?”
Even Oppenheim himself was suspected of advocacy journalism during the 2016 election.
In the final weeks of the campaign, the Washington Post ran the explosive story of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape that nearly derailed Trump’s candidacy.
Critics at the time accused NBC of sitting on the damning footage from one of its shows and leaking it at a time that could do the most damage to the Trump campaign.
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Industry insiders speculated that Oppenheim, who was the head of “Today” at the time, was behind the leak since he was a close friend of David Fahrenthold, the Post reporter who told the story, whose friendship dates back to their time at Harvard. University. Fahrenthold was later tapped by MSNBC as a contributor and has since joined The New York Times.
Oppenheim has long denied playing a role in the leak.
Fox News’ Brian Flood contributed to this report.