Seek truth and report it. Minimize harm. Act independently. Be accountable.
These are the four main principles of the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics, what aspiring and professional journalists should live by and faithfully follow. It describes journalists’ responsibility to the public in reporting and providing them with the truth of what goes on in the world, no matter how reluctant or skeptical the public might be. This however, has become increasingly difficult in the last few years, particularly, after Sept. 11.
Either journalists are swayed by outside sources, i.e. the government or large corporations, practically synonymous at this point, or do investigative work and find incriminating evidence of dirty tricks, high crimes and misdemeanors. In the latter case, reporters are blacklisted, their reputations ruined, and in the case of many countries, silenced with death.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, eight journalists have been killed worldwide in 2008. Since 2003, 127 journalists and 50 media workers have been killed in Iraq, which remains the most dangerous place for a journalist to work. Iraq also has the highest rate of unsolved journalist murders. Also on CPJ’s impunity list are Russia, Mexico and Columbia. Journalists are being killed for doing their jobs right and nothing is being done about it.
During the 1960s and ’70s, pioneer reporters like Jack Anderson, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, uncovered disturbing details of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. Instead of being praised for doing the right thing and doing the public a great service, they were discredited and labeled liars and anti-American. The same thing goes on today, except “good reporters” are a rare breed. And when I say good, I mean they are underpaid, yet hungry and willing to risk their lives and jobs in the name of honest journalism.
Unfortunately for us, the majority of mainstream media players simply act as mouthpieces of government officials. There is a not-so-secret love affair between the press and the government. We learn in media and political science classes that the media act as the “fourth estate” or branch of government, meaning they are meant to check, criticize and scrutinize, not smile, nod and repeat.
This is easy to do when the government pays “experts” to go on national TV and report that everything is wonderful in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, and that the global war on terror must focus on Iran. “The New York Times,” liberal rag that it is, recently released a shocking report that evidenced just that. The publication sued the Department of Defense in order to obtain records of emails, transcripts and briefings that show an elaborate talking points operation conducted by the government to manipulate war coverage, after it was clear that the war was becoming unpopular.
Numerous military analysts who were “in sync” with the administration’s policy in Iraq, and had business interests in the Middle East, were featured on Fox News, CNN and all the major networks, and were quoted in magazines, Web sites, and newspapers like “The New York Times.” The case for the war was made by paying off columnists, creating fake news segments, even Iraqi publications were in on the Pentagon’s propaganda effort. As David Barstow, the author of the report noted, the Pentagon was basically framing how the public viewed the war effort, as this enormous endeavor included trips to “war zones,” and the analysts/lobbyists came back championing the U.S.’s democracy building.
“These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual lines between government and journalism have been obliterated,” wrote Barstow. He added that the media no longer served as a filter of news, but an amplifier of the positive reports from Iraq. It is clear that the media became government puppets that were duped into believing the people they featured in their news programs were actual experts, when in actuality they were friends of the White House.
In 2006, when Donald Rumsfeld, then defense secretary, was criticized by retired generals who were requesting his resignation, Rumsfeld turned to his loyalists for a “public relations offensive.” They were briefed on what to say regarding the dissenters, that they were loud and few, and subsequently went out and repeated what the secretary told them to say.
Am I the only one outraged by this? Let’s start off by admitting that most people don’t care that the government is essentially controlling our thoughts and actions by projecting it on the big screen for us to eat up. How else can you explain presidents getting away with worse things than having an extramarital affair in the White House?
It is easy to take in what we hear and see all around us. The public will buy anything it is sold because people are hired to think and make decisions for us. Except those that do the thinking quote people whose opinions are controlled and influenced by fat checks handed out by the Pentagon.
In the days after Sept. 11, before and during the war in Iraq, the media simply reported everything high-ranking officials said. Anyone doing otherwise was lambasted and/or ignored. We weren’t allowed to ask questions of why we were attacked and why we were then going to attack an entirely different country; all we knew is that Saddam Hussein was loaded with ammunition and we needed to attack him before he attacked us.
The public ate up that kind of fear-ridden propaganda along with their TV dinners and ice cream. Instead of questioning what we are being fed, we become mindless conformists to a system that perpetuates lies. We sit back in front of the tube while one hand rests on our paunch and the other is shaking a fist, and we yell “Damn those (fill in the blank)!”
But don’t we as citizens of this planet have a right to know the truth? Isn’t it our responsibility and in our best interest to be aware of our surroundings, no matter how glum and depressing they are? Well, if you agree with Thomas Grey’s “ignorance is bliss” then go ahead and bask in your ignorance. But if you want to do something about it, go with Euripides: “Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.” What’s the worst that can happen? Sure you might not be blissful, but you’ll feel better knowing you weren’t duped.
Trust me, I’m a journalist.