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Remember your high school newspaper? I attended different schools and worked on their papers. Two featured typical well-meaning articles that sounded like the excessively toady book reports I wrote in middle school. I had an idea back then that teachers revered all books, and to criticize anything in print would be sacrilege. So, to please the adults, I lied in flowery prose. Every book was a gem. But I was unaware that in writing to garner favor, I was foreshadowing a media trend to come.
The newspaper in my last school was the physical manifestation of my journalism teacher’s ego. It was enforced perfection…or as close as we could come. We won awards because we knew how to follow directions. We (meaning our teacher) didn’t care how our readers felt about the stories and their conspicuous lack of relevant news as long as the writing was impeccable.
Recently, my husband and I watched SHOCK AND AWE, a 2017 dramatic film about the storm of misinformation that preceded the U.S. initiation of the ongoing war in Iraq. Most disturbing to me was the willingness of the press (with the exception of Knight-Ridder Newspapers) to disseminate badly misrepresented information that fed the agenda of the government then in power, although the conclusion was patently wrong.
As we have seen with so many recent events—including rampant government corruption and the still raging pandemic—inaccurate information kills. The New York Times eventually apologized for their role in the deceptive spin that convinced Americans we needed to go to war. Less ethical agencies don’t apologize. But even the most sincere attempt to convey regret doesn’t soothe the grieving. We depend on the press and major news media outlets to be honest. We know they don’t all honor or even pay nodding acknowledgment of their obligation to rise above politics. Once we thought the FCC would watch out for us and nefarious uses of our information. Obviously, that isn’t the case. We the people must INSIST on dependable reportage from our news outlets. The press is our final line of defense against ineptitude, tyranny, and corruption. We must shun the unethical, regardless of how entertaining they are, and reward those that deserve the responsibility they have shouldered. In these times, we, the public, are the only ones willing and powerful enough to champion truth above profit.