In his Jan. 25 commentary, “Objectivity is dead, and I’m okay with it,” Lewis Wallace described his internal conflicts over his role as a reporter and his dignity as a transgender person under the new administration. He never explicitly names President Trump or White House officials who have discredited critical media coverage, yet refers to statements in the early days of the Trump presidency. He wrote:
“As a working journalist, I’ve been deeply questioning not just what our role is in this moment, but how we must change what we are doing to adapt to a government that believes in ‘alternative facts’ and thrives on lies, including the lie of white racial superiority.”
Wallace went on to make the case that neutrality “isn’t real” and asked other journalists for their reactions.
Sharing his own perspective as a transgender person, he said, “I can’t be neutral or centrist in a debate over my own humanity. The idea that I don’t have a right to exist is not an opinion, it is a falsehood. On that note, can people of color be expected to give credence to ‘both sides’ of a dispute with a white supremacist, a person who holds unscientific and morally reprehensible views on the very nature of being human? Should any of us do that?”
But, in a subsequent Medium post describing how his critique of journalistic objectivity led to his dismissal, Wallace recounted how he removed the post at the request of his supervisors. They told him he had violated Marketplace’s ethics code and would be suspended for the rest of the week.
Wallace later reconsidered his decision to withdraw the commentary, and informed his bosses last Friday in a letter that he planned to republish it.
He did so, and learned Monday morning that he’d been fired.
Wallace, who worked in Marketplace’s New York bureau, was a Pritzker Journalism Fellow at Chicago’s WBEZ, a training program to promote diversity in public radio newsrooms. He also received fellowships for environmental reporting and AIR’s New Voices program. He reported for WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, before joining Marketplace.
In his second Medium post, Wallace wrote that he was the Marketplace’s only transgender reporter and, as far as he knew, the only transgender person “at any national radio outlet.”
‘Keep political views private’
In his account of the dismissal, Wallace was told he had violated Marketplace’s standards for objectivity and neutrality. His supervisors pointed to this statement in his original post: “We will be called politically correct, liberal and leftist. We shouldn’t care about that nor work to avoid it.”
Marketplace’s ethics code does not specifically use the terms “objective” or “neutral,” but its guidelines for social media say: “We should do nothing that could undermine our credibility with the public, damage our newsroom’s standing as an impartial source of news or otherwise jeopardize Marketplace’s reputation. … We’ll conduct ourselves in social media forums fully aware of how our behavior or comments might appear if we were called upon to defend them as a news organization.”
The “public life” section of the code says “Marketplace staffers must keep their political views private.”
In the Jan. 31 post about his firing, Wallace said public media’s standards for newsroom diversity and objective reporting are in conflict. “We cannot have token diversity without making actual space for the realities of being a marginalized or oppressed person doing journalism,” he said.
Wallace wrote that he had been encouraged to use social media to build his “personal brand” as a Marketplace journalist. In an email with Current, he said he had never been questioned on the ethics of his journalism. When he wrote his original commentary about objectivity, he said, “it didn’t even occur to me that I should worry about a sort of high-level post about journalistic ethics in that regard.”
In a forthcoming interview for The Pub, Wallace describes why he decided to go public with his account, saying he wanted to “raise these broader questions about how we find our direction as journalists in this rapidly changing world and how we make space for different kinds of voices and different kinds of stories.”
“My priority in deciding to be public about this conversation is not to disparage Marketplace or encourage people to pass judgment on the work of the other people who work there, because I think they are to a person really talented and wonderful,” he said.
APM declined to confirm Wallace’s account of his dismissal, citing a policy not to discuss personnel matters. In a statement, spokesperson Angie Andresen said: “Our strong ethics and political activity guidelines are clear and are designed to allow us to fulfill our commitment to independent and objective reporting. Diversity is a hallmark and strength of Marketplace’s staff.”