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The purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, communities, societies, and governments. It has an unusual capacity to serve as a watchdog over those whose power and position most affect citizens of this great country. With so much uncertainty, confusion and fear that comes across the internet on a constant, journalists may very well be the last American heroes.
Journalists are supposed to be the people speaking up and saying, actually, no, what you are being told is untrue; it is not the whole story. Ironically, it seems people want journalists to speak truth to power – until it is their power that is being questioned. At this point, the journalist “instantly” becomes unethical and incompetent. Unfortunately, this scenario seems to have deepened with the current administration.
Much has been made of President Donald Trump’s so-called “war on the media,” but the real war being waged by the president and his cohorts is a war on truth. Seeking, sharing, repeating, and championing truth is at the heart of good journalism. In this combat, journalists are truth’s greatest ally. This is why the watchdog role remains so vital to America’s democracy.
While it is factual, Trump gets a lot of bad press, it is equally true he often deserves it. His campaign and presidency have been marked by a series of outright lies (or “alternative facts”) on a scale never seen in the history of the United States. He put his interests and those of his family in front of everything and everyone else. The laws and Constitution have been bent, disgraced and shattered by this one man. Despite many unwavering supporters, some citizens are wondering if the world’s “greatest country” will be able to recover its position of respect in the world after his presidency.
America is not an island unto itself as Trump promotes. The world is a complicated place where no one country, regardless of its power, can demand that its dictates are followed. There are many interconnections regarding the balance of power and necessities in an ever-changing world. We need honest, hard-working, courageous journalists to be American heroes. We cannot continue down these corrupt paths without dire consequences. Immigrants from many countries have worked to make the nation great. The Trump Empire has discriminated against people of color, cheated the common worker, used illegals at their disposal and shamed the office of the presidency. This has to be revealed by journalists.
“Speaking truth to power” has become a popular way to describe taking a stand, even when the people speaking are powerful themselves. Although the origin of the phrase is commonly ascribed to a book advocating against the Cold War, it appears to have been coined earlier by civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. The commonly acknowledged climax for the spread of the phrase “speak truth to power” is the 1955 book, “Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence,” published by the American Friends Service Committee. This book received significant media attention during the first year of its publication.
The Founding Fathers ensured that journalism was the only profession protected by the Constitution. They saw it as an important check on power, exercised on behalf of citizens of a free nation. As Thomas Jefferson wrote,
Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.
The assault on the freedom of the press does not begin or end with the current administration. The robust journalism that America requires has, of course, is being undermined on all sides. Even where media outlets try to tell the stories that need to be told, they face threats from government agencies. These organizations are supposed to be checked and balanced by a constitutional prohibition on any official action abridging the freedom of the press or of the related democratic rights to speak, to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The Constitution and First Amendment provide for freedom of speech and of the press. As the last American heroes, journalists must be protected. There has to be a consistent and absolute defense of the rights not just of high-profile national reporters but of all journalists and citizens who gather information, demand answers, speak truth to power and then seek to disseminate their reports.
There are no sacred cows. Journalists have to give people the cold, unadulterated truth even when they refuse to hear it. In this “post-truth era,” journalists are the last American heroes. Citizens must fight to ensure that journalism lives to speak truth to power another day. Not because we think it should, but because we know it must. Journalism matters. It is their responsibility of journalists to question and, challenge those in positions of power. The stakes are higher now than they have ever been in the history of America. Long live the free press!!!
Editorial by Cherese Jackson
Classroom: The Origin of the Phrase “Speaking Truth to Power”
American Press Association: Principles of Journalism
TED2017: Why journalists have an obligation to challenge power
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