Senior columnist examines journalism’s failures in his own exit

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: A 30 column is a chance for departing permanent staff to say farewell and reflect on their time spent in the The Daily Texan. The term comes from the old typesetting mark (-30-) to denote the end of a line.

This will be my final column in The Daily Texan. I have been writing for the college newspaper for more than six years — first in Boston, and then in Austin — up and down the masthead. And while this era is ending sooner than that for which I had hoped, I have been very fortunate to have this time in journalism.

Journalism is under siege. That statement today feels almost trite, as we hear it time and time again. The president calling us “the enemy of the people” never stops being scary, and the slow withering of print media fells America in a way we only are now even scraping the surface of understanding.

Yet the press is responsible for many of its own ills. Trump’s election has oftentimes made journalists too hypersensitive, and resistant to reasonable criticisms. This creates an insular, navelgazing profession that is all too often immune to accountability. 

Journalists asked Hillary Clinton countless questions about the propriety of her email server at the 2016 presidential debates. Left unquestioned was any reference to climate change, or sufficient examination of the ways in which the next president could, and indeed, has, radically reshape the federal judiciary. Closer to home, flacks hoot and holler about Lupe Valdez’s delinquent property taxes. Meanwhile, Greg Abbott’s decision to eschew Medicaid expansion has directly led to the deaths of thousands of Texans.

In many ways, this is because journalism — and the cult of objectivity that has hobbled it since the time of Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy — is not built right. The media fawns over the horse race of it all, talking about bullshit that matters little and chalking up polls as though they were division standings in a baseball season. Indeed, the sports metaphor is rather apt. The press acts a spectator to politics, often because they are, coming disproportionately from massive positions of privilege. (I would be remiss if I did not note I am guilty of this time, and time, again.)

We need to do a much better job of admitting when we were wrong, acquiring humbleness and telling the whole story. The truth is rough, and few are willing to embrace the cynicism required to see it, but reality is that the entire federal and state government leadership is composed of evil men who do bad things to innocent people, and are motivated by little other than selfishness or base racism. Journalists, particularly those in the putrid “access” subgenre, often trade light coverage to their friends, because they were so kind at the last cocktail party. A difficult realization of adulthood is what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil. These people are not our friends, and we betray those whom we ostensibly protect by ever acting that way.

Some outlets have responded to these threats by withdrawing from the fight altogether. Former Texas Monthly editor Tim Taliaferro infamously quipped that Texans do not care about politics when defending a now-aborted attempt to withdraw political coverage. I was told that the Texan was no longer the place for “high-minded political commentary” before my own exit.

We make these choices at our own peril. The failure of journalism — prompted mostly by others, but in part by ourselves — has already launched one fascist into the White House. What else will it foretell?

I lastly want to thank everyone who made my time at the Texan possible, namely Laura Wright, Riley Brands, Samantha Ketterer, Antonia Gales, Claire Smith, Alexander Chase and Laura Hallas. 

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Horwitz is a third-year law student from Houston.