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Blog 4: The Role of Journalist during Wartime/Crisis

February 27, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

I believe that journalist should question the government in times of crisis, but our news media often blurs the line of objectivity.  While there are minor exceptions to this role (i.e. Knight Ridder and Christiane Amanpour), many media outlets let the government doing the talking because they aren’t asking the right questions to get to the “final proof.”

Journalists are often considered part of the “fourth estate” when it comes to the government “as an additional check on the three official branches.”   Our country’s founders discussed the “freedom of the press” in the Constitution’s First Amendment, which many see as a need for truth and news for our country from the very beginning, protecting us from “the worst forms of tyranny.”  But, unlike doctors and lawyers, journalists don’t take an official oath; it is up to the individuals and news organizations to ensure that they follow some sort of code to ensure public trust and to distribute the truth.  Georgetown Law laid out the most important rule in Media and Journalists in Society: “The information must be accurate; it must be presented objectively and interpreted fairly; and it must, if an expression of editorial opinion, be answerable.”

As journalists strive to deliver the news, the truth easily gets lost in the process.  In times of crisis, is American patriotism or accurate reporting necessary?  This is where the line is blurred. As American citizens, we want the truth, but as we discussed in class, when the New York Times reported unpatriotic “truths,” protesters lined their sidewalks. They were called out for being anti-American while simply trying to inform the public.  So what DO Americans want?  It seems we say one thing, but do the other when it comes to journalism and politics.

Former CNN reporter Amanpour attempts into the “watchdog role” in her reporting, but it has caused criticism from many outlets:

“Some people accused me of being pro-Muslim in Bosnia, but I realised that our job is to give all sides an equal hearing, but in cases of genocide you can’t just be neutral. You can’t just say, ‘Well, this little boy was shot in the head and killed in besieged Sarajevo and that guy over there did it, but maybe he was upset because he had an argument with his wife.’ No, there is no equality there, and we had to tell the truth.”

Moyer’s documentary discussed how the Bush administration ensured that the approved reporters were able to ask questions. This is where the problem lies – journalists have to ask questions and get answers to really report a story, but if they aren’t given the fair opportunity, how can they report the truth?  The Bush administration was extremely wary of the press, which inhibiting this coverage.  Bush once responded to a reporter asking difficult questions:

“You’re assuming that you represent the public. I don’t accept that.”

No matter what ethics code a journalist stands by, if the opportunity doesn’t present itself, the news cannot report the full story.

“It’s a question of being rigorous. It’s really a question of really asking the questions. All of the entire body politic in my view, whether it’s the administration, the intelligence, the journalists, whoever, did not ask enough questions, for instance, about weapons of mass destruction. I mean, it looks like this was disinformation at the highest levels.” – Amanpour

While I agree there needs to be some secrecy in government (and I don’t agree with the Wikileaks’ goals), there needed to be more of a challenge to the Bush administration post-9/11.  For instance, how exactly do Saddam Hussein and the Al-Queda link?  What proof is there of weapons of mass destruction?  The intentional internal leaks are frightening to me as a journalism student.  We received the information the government wanted us to hear about Iran/Iraq but not what we needed to hear.  Reporters and anchors, like CBS’ Katie Couric, cannot just simply repeat the government-framed information.

The juggling game continues.  As newsroom budgets and staffs get cut, can the American public accept a “sleeping watchdog” press, which advocates for objective news, but doesn’t practice it?   With only the Knight Ridder Washington bureau questioning Bush’s post-9/11 movements, it seems as “cheerleading” for the presidential policies is much more encouraged post-crisis.  I don’t think we would be in such a mess now, if the press had only questioned Bush’s actions at the time.  The media must practice objective reporting now, so we don’t have to pay for misinformation later.

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  1. March 2, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Good job. Nice looking post. Do you think a formal “oath” for journalists would help matters?

    And you mention criticism of journalists a couple of times. Maybe journalists are only doing their job properly if they are criticized by special interest groups and government officials.

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