Editor’s Note: Is objectivity possible when it comes to human rights?

By Mari Devereaux, Co-Editor-in-Chief

As a journalist, I think about objectivity constantly and I strive to not let parts of my identity restrict my ability to report without bias.

On the first day of “Introduction to Journalism” in college, we are told to be wary of posting our opinions on social media, and we are instructed not to factor our religious or political beliefs, race, sexuality, gender or background into our writing.

We are told this because our purpose is to amplify others’ voices, rather than our own, and tell their stories while providing the public with critical and factual information.

Being unbiased and seeking objective truth are principles that apply to more than just careers in journalism. Sometimes, they are expected in other lines of work, too.

Watching Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I realized how the concept of objectivity in law seemed to edge its way into public consciousness.

On Sept. 26, President Donald Trump nominated Barrett to replace the beloved U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died due to complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer on Sept. 18. The nomination has since caused partisan divides because although justices are not affiliated with any political party, each often produces decisions that align with either more conservative or liberal values, as a result of how they interpret the U.S. Constitution.

Democratic leaders have argued that with the election so close, the country should wait until after the November presidential election to fill Ginsburg’s seat, especially since that was her dying wish, according to her family. In contrast, some Republicans believe Trump should be able to nominate the candidate of his choice to the U.S. Senate for confirmation simply because he is the country’s current leader.

The possibility that Barrett could be confirmed is frightening for some, due to the discussion of faith and law in her academic writing and her perceived restrictive views on abortion. During the hearings, Democratic and Republican senators alike pressed Barrett about her perspectives, while others insisted her Catholicism not be taken into account.

On Oct. 13, Barrett told senators she is not decidedly against Roe v. Wade or other more liberal rulings, and if confirmed, she will not be taking on the role of justice with commitments to any specific agenda, according to reporting from the Washington Post.

Like judges, journalists are expected to put aside their personal convictions to do the work in front of them, fairly and accurately.

But, is it possible to separate oneself from one’s identity when thinking about issues of human rights? Can the court’s five Catholic justices, two Jewish justices, six white justices or two justices of color completely distance themselves from their own beliefs and upbringings when making a decision on a case? Can journalists do the same when writing an article?

Personally, as a student journalist and young adult with a lot to say about matters and decisions that directly affect me and my future, the will to be heard can be overwhelming.

Perhaps it is better to acknowledge our beliefs when it comes to human rights, rather than suppress them. By carefully examining my own thoughts and opinions, I can prevent them from seeping into my reporting.

Reporters should also have the option to turn down a story that is too close to home to avoid a real or perceived conflict of interest, and there is nothing wrong with that. At the same time, if a reporter has a personal or professional stake in reporting an article, then it is important for them to disclose the unavoidable conflict to readers.

As investigative and Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones said in the NPR podcast 1A, The Debate Over Objectivity In Journalism episode, as soon as a person knows enough about something, they form an opinion and complete objectivity becomes impossible.

“The only way you can be fair is to understand what your biases are in your reporting and report against them,” Hannah-Jones said.

The presence of feelings does not automatically mean the absence of truth. But when reporting, it is not about what you believe or want to be true, it is about what truly is.

My identity as a lesbian, and being someone who supports reproductive rights, immigrant rights and the Black Lives Matter movement, among other things, is inseparable and intrinsic to who I am and the journalist I am. It is my hope that these intrinsic parts of who I am help guide what I choose to write about, but they do not dictate how I report.

Just because you may think Halloween is the worst holiday does not mean you cannot write a story about people’s love for Halloween. And although you had a traumatic experience with a dog once, that does not mean you cannot write about how helpful therapy dogs can be for some people.

As long as you are conscious about your thoughts and implicit biases and do not let them cloud your ability to see facts and reason, there is no reason to remain neutral on issues of humanity.

Just because your writing is devoid of your opinions, doesn’t mean you need to be.