Robert Hoyt, the founding editor of the National Catholic Reporter, liked to tell the story of naming the groundbreaking independent weekly newspaper in 1964 in Kansas City, Missouri. As a courtesy, he met with the local bishop hoping for his blessing if not his support. If I recall the story correctly, the bishop encouraged the project and suggested Hoyt call the newspaper The Truth. Hoyt, who was determined that NCR would be open to a diversity of views, was momentarily caught off guard. That would probably not be ideal, he told the prelate. Hoyt pointed out that Pravda, the name of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party newspaper, means “truth” in Russian. A bit chagrined, the bishop agreed that The Truth might not be the best name for a newspaper that boasted of its independence. Observant Catholics understand that certain unequivocal claims about “the truth” have a way of stifling dissent and covering up wrongdoing.
In the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd and the mass protests that followed, the turmoil in journalism and among journalists has itself become a source of protest. How and who should be reporting and opinionating on racism, police brutality, and other forms of discrimination and political conflict? Perhaps the most startling consequence of this turmoil was the resignation of James Bennet, the New York Times’s editorial page editor. Bennet had to step down after the online publication of an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton calling for the use of active-duty military troops in response to rioting. Outraged by Cotton’s piece, the Times newsroom erupted in protest. The paper’s publisher, A. G. Sulzberger, agreed with the protesters, apologized for the op-ed, and said the paper would re-evaluate its criteria for what is published with regard to race and other human-rights issues.
Along with similar resignations or dismissals at other media outlets, the Bennet “resignation” raised serious questions about what kind of viewpoints are now permissible in mainstream media. Conservatives have long condemned the chilling effect of “political correctness” and what is now called “cancel culture” on public debate, and there was much giddy schadenfreude over the “uprising” at the Times: now it was liberals getting canceled by progressives.