The ethical standards of journalism are incredibly important.
Freedom of the press is one of the foundations upon which a strong democracy is built. This is vital because in order to take part in government, the people must be aware of what’s happening around them. They must be given accurate, current information with proper context if they are to engage in the democratic process.
The duty of journalists is to report on the truth. To seek out and expose lies, question those in power, and deliver the facts to the citizens so that they may choose how to respond.
Today, it’s often said that journalism ought to be fair and balanced. It should provide an equal voice to all vocal sides of a discussion and let the people sort it out.
I could not disagree more.
The job of a reporter is not to facilitate discussion, it is to provide factual information. The job of a journalist is to fact check and question. If there are multiple sides to a story, the job of the journalist isn’t to simply tell you what everyone is saying.
The job of a journalist is to find out who is right.
I am not a journalist. I write from the perspective of an activist, and my job is to convince people to care about the causes I support. I want to see the world changed for the better, so I have to lay out a good case as to why those changes are worthy of consideration.
But as a citizen of the world and someone who lives in a democratic country, I rely on the skills and integrity of journalists to keep me informed. Without that, when it comes time to vote, I would be flying blind. Without that, I can’t do my job effectively.
As such, I want journalism to be held to the very highest standards. I need to be able to trust the people who present me with the news. And unfortunately…these days, I can’t.
What Does Integrity Look Like?
I remember reading about the recent 60 Minutes interview with a notoriously dishonest, grifting congresswoman from the United States. I couldn’t sit through the entire thing, but I did watch part of it.
In the midst of the flurry of nonsensical accusations and partisan attacks, among which was an accusation of pedophilia leveled against her political opponents, the reporter sat quietly.
Her response to the pedophilia accusation was a simple and resounding ‘wow’. To her limited credit, she did at least laugh and say that it was a silly notion, but that was about it.
To me, this interview incapsulates what’s wrong with journalism today. Where was the push back? Where was the counter? Where was the list of facts? It’s not hard to find lists of actual child abusers, there are entire databases of them.
Why would you, as a journalist, sit quietly and allow someone in a position of authority over the people of your country, spread fearmongering hate speech, disinformation, and slandering lies? Why would you allow them to use your show as a platform for their propaganda?
When a well-known and largely respectable media station brings someone like this on for an interview, they provide them with validity. They bring attention to their claims and provide them with a wider viewership.
It isn’t enough to roll your eyes. You have to prove to your viewers why it’s nonsense. You can’t expect them to do your job for you.
A good demonstration of integrity would be to refuse them an interview in the first place. But if you must invite them, then spend the interview debunking their disinformation. Piece by piece, step by step, counter their statements with facts and ask for them to respond. Don’t be gentle, hit them where it hurts!
Demonstrate to your viewers why this person shouldn’t be taken seriously.
If they believe what they’re saying is true, they should have no problem mounting a defense. And if they run away in terror at the idea of facing a hard line of questioning from a journalist, then that says a lot.
But you cannot allow lies and slander to just…stand there. Because this is somebody that voters will be listening to. If you don’t provide a rebuttal, what does that say?
It says to them, that you don’t have one. And that implies that it might be worth listening to.
Watching this discussion brought a lot of my concerns forward. I find it very interesting where this group has landed. I strongly agree with the idea of fact-checking and debunking coverage in real time, I think that’s an excellent way to go about dealing with interviews like this.
Where they lost me was when they compared this show with previous interviews of people like Charles Manson. Claiming that interviewing her and letting people see for themselves how absurd her claims are, that’s somehow the same as interviewing Manson…
No. There’s a very large difference. Charles Manson was a crazed cult leader, a convicted murderer with no power over anybody.
This is a Congresswoman. She’s an elected official with power and authority over the lives of American citizens.
You cannot compare the two. One is a matter of sideshow curiosity, the other gets to make decisions that directly impact the way her constituents get to live their lives. Her raving isn’t just nonsense, it changes laws and policy.
You have to challenge it, or else you’re failing in the most sacred, honorable responsibility of your profession.
What ever happened to speaking truth to power?