Final Blog Post
Freedom is an essential aspect of journalism.
If journalists are censored and controlled by the governments, organizations or people they report on, then they are no longer journalists, but a means of propaganda.
History is overflowing with examples of people in power suppressing or manipulating information in order to support a particular agenda or maintain power.
The Catholic church used its monopoly on being able to read the Bible to spread unbiblical practices. Dictators such as Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler didn’t let any information that painted them in a negative light get published. Even now, in countries such as Russia and Syria, the lack of a free press restricts the citizens of those countries from being able to make informed decisions.
The truly terrifying aspect of each of those examples is the effects of each situation.
The Catholic church convinced people that indulgences were acceptable. Stalin and Hitler tricked their countries to support wicked wars. In Russia Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings sit at an outstanding 80 percent, while it is widely assumed that he has killed journalists and critics.
Such actions should be spoken out against by any elected US official, nonetheless the president of the United States. But as Margaret Sullivan, a media columnist for The Washington Post, pointed out in a recent column, this was not the case with President Donald Trump
Recently, Bill O’Reilly stated to Trump that Putin was a killer and President Donald Trump’s response was, “There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?”
Sullivan explains that Trump failing to recognize or speak out against the killing of journalists should not cause one to assume Trump will perform such actions, but it should alarm not only every journalist, but every American.
Trump’s self-declared war on media has been carried out through constantly berating national media outlets he disagrees with, tweeting out and saying false information and at times only interviewing with the networks and papers that provide favorable coverage.
Shortly after a press conference where Trump called the media the “enemy of the people,” David Brooks, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, responded that such language is right out of the fascist playbook.
“It’s illiberal and offensive to the way democracy is supposed to work and how one is supposed to just act within the institutions of democracy,” Brooks said.
Democracy is supposed to be a government driven by the people, but there is no way for the people to navigate the treacherous waters of complex domestic and international issues without the information necessary. Knowledge is power, and it follows that the suppression of a certain group’s knowledge is the suppression of that group’s power.
That is not to say that Americans are privy to all information, such as matters of national security and certain personal aspects of public figures’ lives. However, the vast majority of information should be available to be dissected and analyzed in reference to how it affects the country and the lives of its citizens.
But with access to a free flow of information also comes great responsibility.
Journalists must diligently seek out stories that need to be told and tell them in a way that lets the American people decide what to think. It would be hypocritical for journalists to demand the freedom of information, but then deprive the general public of that same privilege.
Trump’s attitude toward journalists and the phenomena of “fake news” that has risen with him as served as a chance for self-evaluation and a call to action for many within the media.
The current political situation should serve as a chance for those who disagree with each other to come together over democratic principles.
CNN’s Brian Stetler and Fox News’ Sean Hannity recently demonstrated this unity between typically contrasting journalists. Hannity said people should not boycott comedian Stephen Colbert because he made a particularly lewd joke about Trump without expecting that method to boomerang and be used against conservatives.
Later, on a different show, Stetler commented that he agreed with Hannity, something he said he’s never done before, and that we should not try to suppress the voices of anyone in this county.
Like Hannity and Stetler, journalists must be willing to put their political ideology and preconceptions of one another aside in support of promoting people’s right to speak their opinion. It is dangerous and contradicting when people want to silence opposing views because those opposing views will likely want to silence you as well.
Nic Dawes wrote an article for The Nation calling for entire media organizations to coordinate and come together, but he also said journalists must again earn the respect of the people.
“To regain trust, news organizations must not only produce first-rate work; they must show that they understand why so many people lost faith in them and take concrete steps to make amends,” Dawes said.
This is no small task though, as The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook shows by parsing out the complexities, knowledge and skills required in conducting commendable journalism.
The handbook gives the scenario of an affluent reporter struggling to relate to a homeless man living in poverty as an example of the disconnect journalists must strive to overcome. Journalists cannot communicate with the public if they do not understand how the public thinks and views them.
Looking forward, the media has its work cut out for it.
Nevertheless, journalists in big cities and small towns, liberals and conservatives, print and broadcast, must come together and challenge one another to seek truth, share knowledge and support the right to disagree with one another and those they report on.