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BLOG 4: Responsibilities of the Media

I was interested in the results of my Googling “Watchdog journalism”, primarily in the fact that people form self-titled “watchdog” groups that revolve around specific niches. The National Association of Eating Disorder’s “Media Watchdog” site has volunteers that “closely monitor various forms of media, commending or critiquing advertisements or programs that positively or negatively impact body image and self-concept.” The Journal Watchdog is a site that actively tries to be a media watchdog…for the Greenville, South Carolina community. And the Media Research Center is the controversial watchdog group that performed the ACORN prostitute sting and, more recently, a sting on Planned Parenthood. I had always assumed that when people referred to the “watchdog role” of the media they were only speaking to the idea that journalists should question politics in general. Therefore it was interesting to see that there are actual watchdog groups formed not around questioning the government, but around very specific platforms.

But the specific roles of these watchdog groups still reflect popular consensuses, and it’s hard to say if they really are “watchdog” groups, or are just trying to support certain agendas. I think true watchdog investigation comes through when the media at least questions government moves that are widely accepted as “good”, thus going against popular opinion. In class, we have seen two example of the New York Times both acting for and against the government in a time of war. First, we saw the Bush administration leaking incorrect data supporting the War in Iraq to the NYT, who published it without question, thus spurning on the war even further and not causing any particular outcry. Next, we have the NYT leaking information about phone tapping going on in the same war, to which many people lashed out, calling the paper “unpatriotic” and “treasonous”. However, while the former clearly helped keep the war in motion, perhaps costing lives, it’s hard to pinpoint if the latter had such an effect, and certainly unlikely. It was, however, an incident where civil liberties were being infringed upon in the name of war. Perhaps it is too much speculation, but I would also assume that wiretapping would do little good in deterring actual terrorists, and the majority of people here were having their rights violated for no reason. But, speculation aside, the New York Times had a duty to report the underhanded actions going on by the government. I feel citizens can’t pick and choose as to what information is revealed to us; either news sources leak important political information that can be theoretically damaging but important for the public to know, or citizens should not feel they deserve any leaked information, even if it supports their opinion.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, news stations were understandably focusing little on politics and primarily on the reactions on US soil. Such focus is completely justified immediately following an event, when neither the government nor the news outlets are completely sure as to why the event has happened and therefore reporting accuracy may be flawed. As with Hurricane Katrina, too, the primary media focus at first was on the human, not the political. Not only would it be jumping the gun to report alleged facts immediately, but it would also appear insensitive. However, while there is no set “waiting period” for the press to start questioning the government’s role in and responses to national tragedy, they cannot just hold the government’s hand for years, as with the Iraq War. History-changing events play such a role for a reason, and should not be taken lightly. Even if it is unpopular, questions need to be asked and issues looked into. Looking at Hurricane Katrina one finds a decent example of the press properly handing a tragedy in regards to questioning the government. Media attention first focused on the tragedy, the lives involved, and how to help. But after the initial aftermath, the press started to investigate the government’s role in the amount of damage done and lives lost, and aggressively looked into government inaction. Here we have another case of a large scale tragedy ruining American lives, but, perhaps because it had little to do with world standing or foreign relations, US citizens were open to investigations of the government.

People want to have faith in their government, in the idea that the people leading them are doing right. Therefore, it can sometimes be disheartening and even harrowing when “media watchdogs” divulge information that many citizens don’t like to hear. However, citizens can not simply rely on the government to keep itself in check, despite the layout of the system. It is the media’s job to report on the good and bad within our government, no matter how controversial and unpopular doing so may be.

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Categories: BLOG 4
  1. March 2, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    Your observation about special interest groups setting up “watchdogs” of the media is interesting. You are right that this is something different than the general watchdog role of the media. Special interests (or partisan) watchdogs are more about policing when the media says something they don’t like. This may still be useful in a democracy, but it’s not the press watchdog role per se.

    And you are also right the true watchdog probably involves going after something that is popular, but pursuing the truth even so. This is when we really need the press to step up and be on guard.

  2. March 2, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    Also, be sure to add tags to your post. You lose points for not doing so!

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