In defense of journalism – Baltimore Sun
How silly, perhaps, but how hopeful we were that Donald Trump would give up his attacks on the media after he was inaugurated president. But the pivot hasn’t happened, and the office hasn’t elevated him, as some had predicted. Instead, on his first full day in office, Mr. Trump continued his assault, describing members of the media as “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.” Since then he has intensified his attacks, suggesting Thursday that the media “makes up stories and sources” and that “the level of dishonesty is out of control.”
As a former journalist with stints at daily newspapers outside Boston, in St. Louis and in Baltimore before changing careers to become a psychologist, I felt sad for my former profession after hearing those comments. And I felt oddly sad for a president who must look in the media mirror each day and not like what he sees. Mr. Trump’s comments are frightening. I fear that too many Americans do not recognize the commitment the vast majority of journalists have to the truth, as well as to their professional credibility.
I felt especially heartsick at Mr. Trump’s attacks on the media as I thought of journalism colleagues who died in the last year, colleagues who were, simply, the embodiment of integrity and fair-mindedness. If members of the public, especially those who distrust the “mainstream media,” could have observed these reporters and editors at work, they would have been reassured that journalism has never lost its mission â reporting news accurately to keep readers informed.
I know there are thousands of journalists in this country dedicated to pursuing the truth. I have held that faith since I was a young girl, reading the evening newspaper with my father each night before dinner. He was a banker and a Republican, and he trusted and relied upon the newspaper and the TV evening news. Television is where I found my first journalist hero: Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchor known as the “most trusted man in America.”
My list of journalism heroes is infinite; I could tell you inspiring stories about many colleagues. There was the city editor in Framingham, Mass., who came to work early and stayed late in order to put out the best paper he could, and the night editor in St. Louis whose news judgment was impeccable in terms of play and proportion. He sought to be accurate and fair, and he usually succeeded. The least celebrated newsroom heroes? Copy editors, with their unyielding vigilance toward perfecting a text.
And reporters, always the reporters â those indefatigable creatures who would work late to cover meetings, make one more phone call to double check a fact, seek out new sources of information and work every angle of a story to make sure it was as complete as possible. I remain in awe at the zeal of one Sun reporter who attended a memorial service for a former boss, drove home, parked her car, and immediately headed out on the street to cover the Freddie Gray unrest. Such dedication could serve as a model for any profession.
While the process of journalism is no less than a commitment to accuracy, mistakes do happen. Any professional journalist would own up to the mistake and learn from it. Perhaps it resulted from a moment of carelessness or a faulty assumption. But dishonesty? No. Any reporters caught being dishonest â making up stories or sources â would lose their jobs immediately. That’s the irony: Mr. Trump can lie about journalists with seeming impunity, but if journalists knowingly lie about him, they will be held accountable by their colleagues.
We all know media outlets with aggressive agendas, pundits with particular points of view and closed minds. But my fear is that Mr. Trump will continue to slap the label of “dishonest” on all journalists, sowing further distrust in an honorable profession that is fundamental to democracy.
Years ago I came upon a quote I’ve taken to heart: “Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble.” Most journalists would instantly grasp the wisdom in this: You learn more by being open and listening. That makes White House advisor Steve Bannon’s recent admonition to the media to “keep its mouth shut and just listen” all the more troubling. Journalists are listening â are they ever. But the Trump administration also needs to listen.
Jan Warrington is a Baltimore psychologist and former Sun assistant managing editor for features. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.