Pacinthe Mattar discusses white privilege and objectivity.
Pacinthe Mattar discusses white privilege and objectivity.

437. Objectivity, racism, and the crisis of credibility

Objectivity is a core journalism value, but some have questioned whether it’s a privilege reserved only for white journalists.

When Pacinthe Mattar, then a reporter for CBC Radio in Toronto, went to Baltimore in 2015 to cover the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, her first stop was Gray’s neighborhood in the northern part of the city. She happened to arrive the same day charges were announced against six officers involved in his death. 

After spending hours talking to people and as she was packing up to go back to her hotel, a young man approached Mattar. He asked who she worked for and they struck up a conversation. As their interview began, another man joined them. 

Mattar began the common practice of spelling the man’s name to him to make sure she had it right and he corrected her — Jarrod Jones, not Jared. 

After returning to Toronto and telling her executive producer about the striking similarities in what the two men told her about their own experiences — men who didn’t know each other at all and had never met prior to running into Mattar — and how Baltimore police ended up chasing Mattar and Jones out of an intersection after the city’s curfew started because they were still outside, something odd happened. 

“My executive producer didn’t want to run it,” Mattar says. “She asked me, almost defensively, did you corroborate this with police? I had contacted the Baltimore Police Department multiple times and I reached out to their union. Neither responded. I told her I did. The next question, which solidified the position (of mistrust), was ‘How do you know these men gave you their real names?’”

Mattar recently wrote an article about this experience and others in which reporters of color and those from racialized backgrounds are held to different standards and have to work harder to “prove” their stories are accurate. This is true also when these reporters are covering racialized stories, she says in the piece, “Objectivity is a Privilege Afforded to White Journalists,” recently published in The Walrus

She believes there is a crisis in credibility: “There is a degree of mistrust toward racialized people’s accounts of racism when you go to cover them,” Mattar says. “There’s the mistrust of people we’re trying to cover, predominantly Black, indigenous, and other racialized people who have experiences of racism. And then there’s the mistrust of Black, Indigenous, and other racialized journalists when they’re trying to cover stories about racism.” 

It was only after another colleague, an older white man, spoke with the executive producer about the situation and offered support for Mattar’s journalistic professionalism and the validity of her research, that the executive producer relented and the interview aired. 

It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell talks with Pacinthe Mattar, a broadcast producer in Toronto, who recently wrote a piece for The Walrus titled “Objectivity is a Privilege Afforded to White Journalists.” They discuss her belief that there is a two-fold crisis in credibility when it comes to journalists of color covering racialized topics.

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