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Can journalists be activists?

By Jan-Werner Mueller

03 Apr 2023 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

In journalism, advocacy is just as valid - and valuable - as reporting, Princeton professor Jan-Werner Mueller writes in PS. There's just one proviso: it has to be based on a commitment to truth.

PRINCETON – Should journalists say and write what they think? Recent controversies have given new urgency to old questions about journalists’ professional ethics and political role in democracy.

An ongoing defamation lawsuit has exposed how – and how often – Fox News anchors lied to their viewers about claims that the 2020 US presidential election was “stolen.” The BBC suspended former soccer striker Gary Lineker for tweets criticizing the British government’s refugee policies, allegedly in violation of the broadcaster’s traditional commitment to impartiality. And journalists everywhere are debating whether taking a political position crosses some dangerous line into “activism.”

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