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BLOG 4: Role of Journalists in Time of War or Crisis

Responsibility of the Press — be a Watchdog of Government

It is the responsibility and obligation of journalists to fulfill certain roles in a democratic society.  One of the most crucial roles journalists have in sustaining democratic values is to be the watchdog of the government.  The idea of watchdog journalism is that journalists will actively seek to hold public officials and institutions accountable for their actions and impact on the people through thorough investigation of facts and searching for the truth.  This is always the role of journalists–in peace, in war, in good times, and in crisis.

Lapdog Journalism

The opposite of watchdog journalism is lapdog journalism, which refers to the tendency of journalists to lose their critical attitude once they gain access to elite circles of privileged information.  The result of lapdog journalism is that the press begins to overly trust their elite and powerful sources, the exact people whom should be subject to the highest scrutiny according to the principles of watchdog journalism.  Lapdog journalism is often a failure of investigative reporting and an over reliance on official sources.  This type of journalism must be avoided at all costs, especially when a nation is at a defining moment in their history.

Role of Journalists in War/Crisis — Increased Responsibility

Wars and crises have a momentous ability to shape the fate of a nation.  During these situations the government and other public institutions are often granted increased attention to deliver their messages to the people.  However, in a democratic society it is never the duty of the press to serve as a mouthpiece of the government.  For this reason, when a country is at war or in crisis journalists have an increased responsibility to hold public officials accountable for their decisions and actions, ensure the legitimacy of ‘facts’ distributed by the government and government officials, and exercise the investigative nature of journalism in order to inform the public of the hard facts.

Journalism after 9/11 and during War on Terror

A prime example of the importance of watchdog journalism and the consequences of lapdog journalism happened during the George W. Bush administration.  After the crisis of 9/11 the press let themselves became overwhelmed with patriotism and a feeling of trust for official sources, and this resulted in an absolute failure of investigative, watchdog journalism.  Bush and his administration were certainly not held accountable for their decision to invade Iraq or Afghanistan.  Perhaps as a repercussion of this failure, when the press started to resume their watchdog role as America was plunged into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government did not feel they had to provide factual evidence of the necessity to invade.

This is only one example of how journalists responded to crisis and war.  At many other times throughout history journalists have successfully performed their role as watchdogs of the government during crisis and war.  The circumstance of 9/11 though, is one of the most recent examples of how the press dealt with crisis and war.

Future Role of Journalism?

In an age where professional journalists have to compete with bloggers, pundits, and celebrity media personalities, in an age of increased reliance on official sources, and in an age where newspapers and other outlets for thorough, detailed investigative reporting are failing which type of  journalism will prevail? It is hard to say.  Let us hope though that professional journalists will always keep the government accountable to the people, no matter the circumstance.

  1. March 2, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    GREAT post. Good structure. Nice use of headings to organize your argument. Great conclusion. Succinct, yet long enough to say something. Got some images going on to give it a visual dimension. And you drew in some of the concepts from previous readings.

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