An interesting article in High Country News raises an interesting issue for reporters who are working in an increasingly divisive political environment. In this particular case it is the question of whether a news reporter’s decision to wear Patagonia apparel is a political statement that undermines her perceived objectivity.
Now before you roll your eyes here’s some background. Reporters for credible news operations have historically distanced themselves from anything that might allow their readers/listeners to question their objectivity. We all recognize that reporters are human and they have inherit biases, but part of being a reporter is being aware of one’s biases and taking precautions to minimize them. Whether you work for a conservative or liberal news outlet you are expected to present yourself in a way that minimizes questions about your objectivity, and maximizes the appearance of fairness. After all, news organizations at both ends of the political spectrum claim to be fair and balanced.
So what’s up with wearing a Patagonia jacket while covering hard news? Well, last year during the run-up to the midterm elections Patagonia–which has always been an outspoken defender of environmental causes–took the additional step of endorsing two liberal candidates who were in contentious battles with more conservative candidates. While some businesses outwardly endorse political candidates and show their true colors, most take care to try to appear apolitical. After all, if your business is selling widgets, you don’t want to alienate potentially half of your customer base.
As the article points out, a journalist wouldn’t wear an NRA hat or a Greenpeace t-shirt and one can easily see how these “brands” could be seen as taking a political side. Are clothing brands any different? And if not, should a news reporter steer clear of the appearance of bias?