In These Uncertain Times, Public Media Should Stand Up for Truth and Democracy

Misplaced fairness and an overabundance of caution will make us soothing guides on the road to autocracy.


  • Where will your newsroom draw the line on what is acceptable?
  • How will you cover ideas and language that fall on either side of those lines? What might you choose not to cover at all?
  • What is your process for adjusting those lines?
  • How will you communicate these lines to your staff and audience?

Norms Under Strain

  • Civility and Hate. As hate enters mainstream politics, it is by necessity entering our coverage, and getting a voice on our valued platforms. It’s disorienting and troubling to find it lionized by mainstream media and getting key political appointments. Don’t give a white supremacist a platform and assume your listeners hear what you hear. Make the connections to violence and discrimination explicit.
  • Democracy and Autocracy. If you agree that journalism and democracy are essential to each other, and that democracy is worth protecting, then there’s a line to draw. If something is anti-democratic or unconstitutional, call it out.
  • Ethics and Corruption. It’s not normal that someone with so much legal and ethical baggage is about to become President of the United States. It’s disturbing and requires great vigilance. How will you cover alleged or convicted criminality by President Trump? Our government and civic institutions rely on personal integrity. How will your newsroom cover acts that are unethical or inappropriate even if no law or moral principle has been violated?
  • Facts and Lies. Public media should be proud of our fidelity to facts and our constant reach for truth. But we must recognize that everything around facts and truth — context, volume, language — matter at least as much, if not more. Which brings us to how to monitor the lines we’ve drawn.

Not Normalizing




Podcast strategist.

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Rekha Murthy

Rekha Murthy

Podcast strategist.

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