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 is “ferociously defending the traditional approach to journalism” and that its mission is “to hold the middle ground and be objective and nonpartisan.”
“When we go and interview a national figure, whether it’s Vice President Harris or if it had been Vice President Pence three years ago, we’re going to go into each of those interviews with the exact same mentality, which is these are the folks who are running our country,” Oppenheim told Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones. “They need to be held to account. What are the toughest questions that we should be asking in order to accomplish that?”
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He added, “I still believe in that old-school approach to journalism and being just as tough on both sides. And looking for truth and facts. Our mission is to illuminate and not advocate.”
Oppenheim was then asked about “advocacy journalism,” which he said “certainly has a place in the menu of available offerings in the world for people who are looking for it” but not at NBC News.
“It’s not what we do, though. It’s not what NBC News does,” Oppenheim said.
The NBC boss went on to say that on various issues like voting rights, advocacy isn’t the correct approach but rather “illumination” is.
“I think we can cover it without taking a side per se in an overt way. I think the audience and the readers are sophisticated enough when they read what’s going on to draw their own conclusions about whether it’s good or bad for our democracy,” Oppenheim told Jones.
Except NBC News hasn’t necessarily practiced what Oppenheim preaches.
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Last month, the Peacock network announced it had hired Yamiche Alcindor as a Washington correspondent. Alcindor has 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 showering President Biden with praise following his marathon press conference, which was widely panned by much of the media.
“Pres Biden, in the longest news conference in presidential history, made news, pushed back on critics, called out lies, took responsibility for mistakes he believes he made, expressed surprise at GOP, talked foreign policy and didn’t lash out on reporters. Quite the change,” Alcindor tweeted, adding, “There is so much to say about Pres Biden’s presser. The thing that sticks w/ me is that he took responsibility for mistakes he believes he made, expressed genuine frustration w/ COVID & his agenda being stalled by GOP and Democrats & took hard questions without insulting folks.”
In July, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt raised eyebrows for declaring “fairness is overrated.”
“I think it’s become clear that fairness is overrated … the idea that we should always give two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect the world we find ourselves in,” Holt said while receiving a journalism award. “That the sun sets in the west is a fact. Any contrary view does not deserve our time or attention … Decisions to not give unsupported arguments equal time are not a dereliction 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 say whatever they want, especially when issues of public health and safety are at stake, can be quite dangerous,” before declaring the duty of reporters is to be “fair to the truth.”
In 2018, “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd dedicated an entire broadcast on the subject of climate change but was vocal about his rejection of any climate change skeptics.
“We’re not going to debate climate change, the existence of it. The Earth is getting hotter. And human activity is a major cause, period. We’re not going to give time to climate deniers. The science is settled, even if 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 robust debate about taxes, that’s the debate,” Todd told host Trevor Noah. “The debate is what do you do this.”
“But not for climate change, why not?” Noah asked.
“Well, I also didn’t invite anybody who didn’t believe in the moon landing, and I also didn’t invite anybody who is flat-earther. Is that alright?” Todd responded.
Noah continued to press the NBC News political director, echoing critics who say that “the press should be giving everyone an equal voice.”
“That is – no,” Todd responded. “Our job is to be fair. Our job is to be fair to the facts that are there. How do we mitigate climate change? How do we – if we’re going to build sea walls, where do we build them and who pays for that?”
Even Oppenheim himself was suspected of advocacy journalism during the 2016 election.
In the final weeks of the campaign, the Washington Post published the bombshell story of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape that nearly derailed Donald Trump’s candidacy.
Critics at the time accused NBC of sitting on the damning footage of 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 assumed Oppenheim, who at the time was the executive of “Today,” was behind the leak since he was a close friend with David Fahrenthold, the Post journalist who broke 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 long denied playing a role in the leak.
Fox News’ Brian Flood contributed to this report.