On Journalism Today

The news cycle continues to spin at speeds which even the most avid pundit, the savviest social critic, and the sharpest commentator cannot keep up with. For those of us tasked with writing editorials, the choice is clear: continue to release pieces on such-and-such item, which will quickly become obsolete—or retreat to the world of meta-commentary, deciphering the task of what it means to write about anything or take any stand at all in today’s world.

This is a cynical, and weirdly frank, start to an editorial—and maybe seems presumptuous in a way, given that the Rover has, to my knowledge, never been described as broadly influential or on the “cutting-edge” of social commentary, and therefore, why not just keep striving to do what we can in our own small way?

Yet it seems increasingly clear that to make progress on any issue at all, one has to think about the way narratives, and journalism, and political thinking work in general! Why? In a political and social climate as increasingly fragmented as ours, the outcome of any issue, or the swing of public opinion can seem dangerously arbitrary.

Take, for example, a couple debates that have happened recently right here on campus: the decision to cover the murals of Columbus in the main building, and the question of whether to censor porn on Notre Dame WiFi. People on both sides of the debate on each issue have put forth reasons about why a certain course of action should be taken, why the path forward is clear for Notre Dame, and so on. What is often not mentioned in these debates, however, is some sort of standard for discerning between good and bad reasons—a larger narrative perhaps, or a concrete vision for how a Catholic university ought to function.  It is often absolutely unclear what criteria are used in marking one reason as good and another as bad. One side can say “freedom of speech”, another “respect for all people!”, and the University must deliberate in a way which often just seems to compromise in an unsatisfying way in order to thread the needle.

Likewise, the hubbub in the news about the Covington Catholic incident—in which a group of MAGA-hatted teens either harassed others or, in fact, were harassed, depending on which tweet you read most recently—demonstrates that the difficulty of even reporting basic facts depending on which narrative you are inclined to believe, and whether you have taken the time to acknowledge your overall framework for understanding facts in the first place. Ross Douthat, of the New York Times, has written an interesting piece noting the nature of such events, which he calls “scissors”, in which, it seems obvious to everyone who is at fault and what actually happened, thus having the sole effect of pushing people deeper into their respective ideological camps.

These are disparate examples and points, perhaps. What does emerge out of all this, I hope, is the fact that what it means to report and comment on anything is always complicated; that we ought to think more about the hermeneutic with which we approach any story; that trying to be free of such colored lenses is near-impossible.

It is helpful that the Catholic view of history, politics, and society is a more stable one than any vague political goals, or broadly secular, humanistic view of society. It is apparent that the left’s stance on abortion is increasingly based on arbitrary and always-shifting regarding autonomy, rights, and so on. The right, meanwhile, seems to be rationalize away the worst excesses of Trumpism, yet often without providing a positive vision of their own. The Catholic view of current events, of course, is not always a clear or easy one (far from it!). But it is one we should reflect on often.

Finally, since so many find editorials consisting of general, higher-level commentary annoying and substanceless, I will go ahead and say: I think covering the murals is fine; I am in favor of a porn filter; the Covington situation confirms my worst suspicions of the mainstream media; I don’t, however, think you should wear MAGA hats to the March for Life; and Catholic prep schools are sometimes toxic. Now if you’ll excuse me: I haven’t checked Twitter in a while, and I’m counting on a chance to see another one of my hometown high schools torn apart, with or without good reason.

James is a senior studying philosophy. He likes jazz, canon law, and not thinking about the fact that he wrote the words “James Rahner is a senior” in the last sentence. James can be reached at jrahner@nd.edu.

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