When I told my longtime journalist friends my new job is to write a weekly opinion column and guide straight-up news coverage at the same time, it raised a few eyebrows. Their question: How do you oversee objective reporting when you’re also delivering opinions on what’s happening in the news?
Since my days as a college journalist, I’ve bought into the Hunter S. Thompson maxim that “with the possible exception of things like box scores, race results and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism.” That’s an acknowledgement that all journalists bring their own perspective to the job, shaped by life experiences that define their world view. The good ones set their biases aside and give everyone a fair shake.
That last standard is what the Georgia Recorder will strive for in news columns. Our news stories will meet strict journalistic standards, with multiple sources and points of view. The integrity of the reporters who are joining me to create the Georgia Recorder is unimpeachable. It will be clear to our readers where the line is between our news coverage and my commentary.
Still, in my clearly labeled opinion pieces — like the one you’re reading now — I’m often going to make a call on what the news means to our state.
Of all the public policy choices I’ve witnessed during my decades in Georgia, the decision not to expand Medicaid income eligibility under the Affordable Care Act is the most mind-boggling and tragic. Georgia is home to 1.5 million people without health insurance, and hospitals are bleeding red ink because they’re required to treat uninsured people who show up in the emergency room.
For the better part of a decade, Georgia’s leaders turned up their noses at billions of dollars in federal money that would pay 90% of health insurance costs for 500,000 people. This is simple math. Georgia’s numbers haven’t changed much since the analysis started coming out in the first wave of state Medicaid expansions in 2013, soon after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way.
Since 2013, Georgia lawmakers have repeatedly insisted the state can’t afford to expand Medicaid. Often, they cite concerns that the federal government won’t live up to its share of the bargain long term because of the national debt. Never mind that Georgia is at peace with that risk when it counts on federal dollars for its transportation plan through 2040.
Georgia lawmakers just got a clear signal that the governor’s plan for a skinny version of Medicaid expansion won’t fly. Utah’s governor recently announced the White House rejected his similar plan. Now is the time for legislators to craft a Medicaid expansion bill so they can pass it as soon as they reconvene in January.
I understand that my journalistic peers and readers of the Georgia Recorder will question how I can have opinions about issues like Medicaid expansion and still ensure even-handed coverage in our news columns. It’s a fair question. And my answer is: Sometimes it will be necessary to look at the facts impartially gathered by our reporters and make a call on what our elected leaders need to do to about them.
The Georgia Recorder is proud to offer progressive commentary alongside our news coverage. I’m thrilled to announce that I won’t be the only opinion writer on our team. My former Atlanta Journal-Constitution colleague Jay Bookman will be sharing his thoughtful, insightful views — informed by three decades writing about some of the most important issues facing our state.
Over the course of my career as a journalist the public’s faith in the news media plummeted. (I like to think the timing is a coincidence!) Part of the reason for that erosion of trust is the relatively recent blurring of the line between news reporting and editorial opining.
You won’t find those blurry lines here. You can call me on that.