Now Is The Time. Teach Your Students About News and News Gathering.
On Monday, I gave my class a news quiz. The only question nobody knew the answer to concerned Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor who was under fire for allegedly communicating with the Russians and then misleading the current administration about it.
Overnight, one Michael Flynn resigned, and you can bet my class knew about it.
A few weeks ago, we watched “All the President’s Men” and my students were definitely intrigued by the one they call “Deep Throat.”
I imagine they’re even more interested now as reports of leak after leak from the White House make their way to the press. Simultaneously, we’re talking about Invasion of Privacy and what that means. Two defenses against a charge of invasion of privacy, of course, are Newsworthiness and Public Record. The latter is, perhaps, easier to define. The former? Not so much.
The exciting thing for me is that we get to have these conversations in class. I get to ask the question: Is a constant stream of leaks from the U.S. government a good thing? Does it concern you? Why?
Tomorrow, we’ll be discussing this Columbia Journalism Review piece about how the leaks are working. This quote, in particular, will be fodder for conversation:
“Now, of course, every leak has an agenda behind it, and it’s important for the public to be skeptical of anonymous comments that are unaccompanied by documents, especially if they are single sourced. It may be the administration floating policies to see how the public will react; it might be someone trying to disparage Trump; or competing parties within the administration may be trying to win an argument through the press. But there’s no doubt many government employees are leaking because they are genuinely terrified about what Trump is actually doing and believe the public has the right to know.”
Today was the first day I sensed it across the entire class, although I saw hints of it last week. They are interested in these deep, uncertain questions. They recognize that the law is shaped by the courts. They can propose hypothetical situations to me, but they get why I am hesitant to even offer a hint of what the ruling might be.
We are living through a Watergate-type situation in this country right now. You don’t need a film to show this to a class. Whether the Trump administration is guilty of any wrongdoing is, in my opinion, beside the point. Right here, right now, we can witness a free press trying to do what courts have long attempted to protect its right to do: publish information that is of public interest and importance.
Our free press is doing so in the face of vocal opposition that, even a decade ago, may not have had a voice. Agree or disagree with those opponents, they have a voice now, and one that is protected in many of the same ways that journalists’ voices are protected.
We are living in a learning moment right now. The specific names, ultimately, might not be important.
Today, it was Michael Flynn. Tomorrow, or next week, or next month, the person under scrutiny could be someone else.
What matters is a free and open press is at work. We, including our young people, ought to pay attention.