Rally around! It’s time to organize another march. Starting with the Women’s March on January 21, 2017, we’ve seen march after march advocating for saving the earth, reversing climate change, science, telling the truth, and others. Now it’s time to organize a march supporting the fourth estate.
Philosopher, statesman Edmund Burke reportedly coined the term in 1787 when the press was allowed in to report on the British House of Commons. Two years later the right of a free press was codified in the United States with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment. Two major cogs in the machine that cause our republic to thrive are an educated citizenry and a free and aggressive press to inform them.
From the beginning, politics and reporting have been at odds. Today we hear the shouts of “left-wing, biased media.” It wasn’t long ago that the cries complained of the “right-wing media. Media’s job, regardless of the bent of the administration, is to add a check on the power and report on the activities of our leaders. The leaders, in turn use the press to help get their message out to the people. This turns into a game of cat and mouse where the press tries to find out more than the government is willing to tell and the government tries to hold back information they think is too sensitive or important at the moment. Media think that is hogwash and want to tell all.
It is important to understand the different facets of newspaper writing. What you are reading here is commentary or an opinion editorial. This is not reporting. I work hard to research my columns and be sure that every fact is accurate. I take pride in that, but you are getting my opinion interpreting those facts. The purpose is to spur thinking and discussion. If I mess-up and give false information, it’s my own reputation that is damaged. On the other hand, there is the A Section that contains the work of dedicated journalists whose only mission is to accurately report on what is new in the world. They are the heroes who have been kidnapped, imprisoned, beaten, and murdered for trying to keep the rest of us enlightened. If they use false information in their reporting, they not only damage their own reputation, but also that of the newspaper.
Theirs is the tougher job, and has become more difficult to execute. In days of yore, there were print deadlines every afternoon, so reporters had several hours to gather information, check sources, write, then edit their copy before it went to press for the following day. Today, there is a demand for instant news, as it happens. The stories evolve as we, the public, watch and listen. All of that is okay, except that first reports of big, complicated events are often sketchy, at best, and occasionally, just plain wrong.
Because that is what we now demand of news sources, we get misinformation that has to be corrected, modified, and explained away.
This misinformation is not lying, it is just not correct. There is a big difference. Reporters aren’t trying to mislead us, they are giving us the best information available and don’t have the pleasure of working on a story, they simply react. Solid news sources correct those misstatements and continue to provide up-to-the-minute information.
The current administration is waging an attack on the press with more vitriol than we have seen in years. In turn, the press is pushing back and making every effort to report every detail.
This administration has become famous for calling the media “fake”, “lying”, and “failing”. They complain constantly about the mostly negative stories about the president and his policies. This happens for two main reasons. First, the president has historically low polling numbers. His mid-forties popularity is newsworthy. Many of the president’s policies have even lower popularity–in the teens and twenty percent range. By definition, a majority of the news stories will have a negative tone due to popular thinking. Next, when the president or his staff give out false information; like the crowd size at the most recent inauguration, or the fact that there were millions of illegal votes cast in the 2016 election, it is incumbent upon the press to give real numbers and find real stories in these far-fetched allegations. The reporting is indeed negative, but it is not false.
Imagine trying to deliver straight news from a White House in which the original story on healthcare was that everyone would be covered, Medicaid would not be touched, and costs would be extremely low–plus, it would be “easy “ to do. Next a bill that was celebrated on the White House lawn takes 23 million people off the rolls, drastically cuts Medicaid and other care outlets, and raises costs for many–plus, “who knew healthcare would be so complicated?’ Following that the president calls the bill “mean”. And, finally, a statement that seems to advocate for going back to pre 2010, insurance company based coverage. I’m glad it isn’t my job to try to dig the truth out of that sequence of events.
It is true that print media is waning. It is not due to failing, as the White House would have you believe. The truth is that print media is as solid, truthful, and successful in reporting as ever. The waning of support for print is due to more easily accessed, faster sources. There are still journalists out there putting their lives and reputations on the line for our benefit. The least we can do is celebrate them with a march.