In Defense Of Honest Journalism

Susan Page
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Wednesday - June 24, 2009
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“The visas for many of the foreign journalists in Iran are expiring this week, depriving the world of independent sources of information about the violent protests that erupted after the disputed presidential election.” - New York Times online story: “In Iran, Fewer Journalists Each Day,” by Brian Stelter and Richard Perez-Pena.

Given what’s happening in Iran, it’s a time to re-evaluate our love/hate relationship with journalists. As a writer who’s never been in harm’s way get a story, I’m inspired by the courage of journalists who risk much to bring truth to a waiting world.

According to opinion polls, journalists rank down in the professional basement along with politicians and lawyers. But Thomas Jefferson said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Seeing today and throughout history how a totalitarian government first controls its people by eliminating the journalist is a sober reminder of how valuable a free media is to freedom.


Still, the profession of journalism, especially with today’s proliferation of opinion blogs, talk radio, big business ratings influence, and the lines between news and entertainment barely visible, it’s important to keep journalists and news organizations accountable, honest and, most of all, humble.

Comments by some famous people do just that:

“A long life in journalism convinced me many presidents ago that there should be a large air space between a journalist and the head of a state.” - Walter Lippmann, American Journalist

“The news is staged, anticipated, reported, analyzed until all interest is wrung from it and abandoned for some new novelty.” - Thomas Griffith, federal judge

“I hate journalists. There is nothing in them but tittering jeering emptiness. They have all made what Dante calls the Great Refusal. ... The shallowest people on the ridge of the earth.” - William Butler Yeats

“There is much to be said in favor of modern journalism. By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.” -Oscar Wilde

“There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil - remain detached from the great.” - Walter Lippmann again

“I hope we never live to see the day when a thing is as bad as some of our newspapers make it.” -Will Rogers, American humorist, 1879-1935

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” - Thomas Jefferson

“Afree press can be good or bad, but, most certainly, without freedom a press will never be anything but bad.” -Albert Camus, French author and journalist

“The most important service rendered by the press and the magazines is that of educating people to approach printed matter with distrust.” - Samuel Butler

“A journalist is a grumbler, a censurer, a giver of advice, a regent of sovereigns, a tutor of nations. Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” -Napoleon Bonaparte

“Don’t pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel.” - Al Capone, Chicago mobster

And most pertinent to the Iranian crisis:

“Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.” -Henry Anatole Grunwald

In my 17th year of writing opinion for MidWeek, one of my responsibilities, according to the Society of Professional Journalist Code of Ethics, is to “Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.” It’s a lonely job.

When columnists criticize our mayor, legislators, governor, president or special interests who wield influence, we’re not popular with some (you should read the letters I get!), but hopefully, would-be “rulers” whose own personal power takes precedence over the people, take heed - like Napoleon and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have - and rethink their priorities.

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