Covering Populist Media Criticism: When Journalists’ Professional Norms Turn Against Them
Various countries have seen a rise in populist rhetoric used by politicians, parties, and movements to discredit journalists, news outlets, and “The Media.” Research indicates that such rhetoric affects the public’s perceptions of the news media, posing a real challenge to professional journalism. Unlike other targets of populist criticism, journalists find themselves required to mediate that criticism to the public, which puts them in a particularly awkward position. Drawing on thematic analysis of 40 semistructured interviews with Israeli journalists who have been publicly scrutinized by Israel’s prime minister, this article suggests that journalists’ interpretation of traditional journalistic norms, and particularly the ethos of objectivity, leads them to amplify the accusations against them, while refraining from refuting them. As journalists confuse objectivity with passivity, the populist criticism turns into a sophisticated form of “soft” censorship, which uses imagined audiences to manipulate journalists’ professional norms against them.