The Planted Row: Journalism is under attack
“Never has a fact been so controversial.”
That’s something my boss recently said to me in an attempt to frame this divisive time in our country. We were talking about how the national debate on the issues facing us seems especially treacherous since people can’t seem to agree on what the facts are.
How do you know what the facts are? How do you know what’s happening around the world if you aren’t there to see it and hear it for yourself?
In most cases, you know because, in one form or another, a journalist tells you.
It has become popular in recent years to mistrust and lampoon the media. Such attacks paint a large, complex and varied industry with a pretty broad brush. There are all kinds of journalists. Writers, photographers, editors, producers, court reporters, breaking news reporters, investigative reporters and political correspondents. Local journalists and journalists working for national outlets. Independent journos and corporate journos. Each of them has a different role to play and a different intended audience.
Some of them do a better job than others, but if they are actually journalists, it means they are held to standards of accuracy and ethics. At their core, those standards mean two things: tell the truth and be fair.
That doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes or have lapses of judgement. But when they make a mistake, they publish a correction. If they mess up bad enough, they lose their careers. That’s the way it works in every newsroom I’ve ever heard of.
When we attack the media as a whole, we reduce the credibility of the vast majority of journalists who have worked hard for their entire careers to bring us reliable information.
That’s why attacking the press is ultimately self-defeating. Journalists are our eyes and ears around the world. So, when we cast doubt upon their reliability as a whole, we’re reducing trust in the primary mechanism we have to stay informed. If we no longer think we can trust that mechanism, then we don’t know what to believe, and we’re more likely to be misinformed. In order for a democracy to function, it needs an informed citizenry.
We can’t find solutions to our problems if we don’t agree on the facts. We can’t agree on the facts unless we have commonly accepted sources of information. Our journalists have been doing that job faithfully for decades. Let’s not throw an entire institution out the window just because some people in power think the truth makes them look bad. We must recognize and resist attempts to shake our faith in one of the vital pillars of our society.
Right now journalists are under more than just a verbal assault. In the recent protests, they have been arrested, assaulted and injured, even after identifying themselves as members of the press and not threats. This has happened even when curfew orders specifically exempt the media. It seems they are being targeted by police.
Every time that happens, you’re being poked in the eye — because journalists are your eyes. Every time that happens, it means someone doesn’t want you to see something, to know something.
And that should make you as angry as it does me and every other journalist.