Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of Wendy Davis’ filibuster on the floor of the Texas Senate. You probably remember it — if not (or even if so), go read Andrea Grimes’ write-up on the events that took place in the Texas Capitol last year with the perspective that 12 months can bring.
Anyway, as anniversaries often do, this one was commemorated with a party. I was busy around the Capitol last year, covering the events for the Austin Chronicle, and I made a lot of friendships with people who are really important to me know as a result of that time. Some of those friends organized this party, and brought in speakers — the marquee name being State Senator Leticia Van De Putte, the Democratic party’s current nominee for Lt. Governor, who galvanized the infamous shouting at 11:47pm last year by asking, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”
It was a remarkable moment, made even more powerful by the context of the evening from Van De Putte’s perspective (she had to leave her own father’s funeral to get to the Capitol to vote against the bill). It essentially launched Van De Putte’s statewide career.
I admire the Senator’s willingness to come to Austin to stand for that moment, at personal sacrifice, and it won’t surprise anyone who’s read much of anything I’ve ever written to know that I’m planning to vote for her in November.
Which might make the next bit sound a little like a #humblebrag to some people, but it isn’t: During her brief remarks last night at the event, she took a moment to single out some of the people who were at the Capitol, and she closed it out with, “Our number-one guy, Dan Solomon.” Which was a bit of a thrill, because I worked very hard that summer and it is really nice to hear someone with a microphone recognize you for it, especially when that person is someone you admire.
But it’s also weird, as a journalist, to hear a politician who you are at least nominally tasked with reporting on (I’ve never covered Van De Putte or her campaign, but I have covered the legislature) publicly declare that you’re, like, on the team. Because I don’t feel like I’m on the team.
At least, I’m not on Team Van De Putte. I was on team “let’s talk about how shitty this vile bill that was being railroaded through using arcane legislative tricks designed to make it easier to get hurricane relief to people in emergencies is” last summer, though, and I was glad that the Senator was on that team as well. And I imagine, since I’ve never written about her in any other context, that that’s what she had in mind when she used that possessive “our” up there. But it’s also weird, because there are certainly situations where Van De Putte and I could be on different teams, and a part of me worries that it’ll be hard for people to trust that because of this identification.
On the other hand, one thing that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in the year since all of the activity at the Texas State Capitol last year is the notion of advocacy in journalism — because it’s unavoidable, primarily, and because I didn’t get into this to pretend to be a convenience store security camera without a viewpoint, guided by a notion of “objectivity” that favors “balance” over truth.
One can be balanced, of course — you just interview someone from Side A, someone from Side B, and say, “Who the heck knows what the truth is, you decide.” But you can’t ever really be unbiased — and I’m not sure anyone would want you to be. But advocacy seeps into all journalism, simply because it’s written by people with viewpoints.
Every sportswriter who covers the NFL is a political writer, because there’s a team in that league whose name is widely accepted by both the public and the courts to be a racial slur. If they choose to refer to that team as “the football team from Washington,” they’re making a political decision; if they choose to call them the Washington Redskins, they’re also making a political decision. If you write about the World Cup and you don’t mention the Favelas that were destroyed to prepare for the event, you’re practicing advocacy journalism; if you write “The Ten Best Episodes Of The Cosby Show" and you don’t include the fact that Bill Cosby has been accused of rape by multiple people, you’re advocating for the idea that those charges aren’t relevant to a discussion of his work; etc, etc, etc.
So if all journalism is advocacy journalism because it’s written by people who have ideas about the world, it’s probably better to be honest about it. Which is why I was comfortable writing such a baldly first-person piece about the filibuster and HB2 last year — the bias was there regardless, and I wasn’t more likely to put my thumb on the scale in favor of my “side” as someone who was open about what he believed than I was as someone who tried to hide it.
I don’t think of myself as Leticia Van De Putte’s “number one guy” (I didn’t know that she had any idea who I was until last night), though, like anyone else would presumably be, I’m flattered by the shout-out — and she may learn why not, over time, as both of our careers continue in Texas. I figure that if you’re going to talk about the importance of reporting honestly and truthfully, part of that is being honest and truthful about how you personally feel about things, so your readers have that information when they read what you have to say, as well — in the end, that’s truth that matters in reporting, too.