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Blog 4: Journalism in Crisis

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. -Edward R. Murrow

Edward R. Murrow is consistently lauded for his work in uncovering the truth amid sensational accusations and claims. When he made this short speech in 1954, he was undercutting a junior senator’s efforts to make a name for himself by inaccurately accusing many of having Communist sympathies. Few in the government, and journalism itself, rebuked the claims out of fear for their own jobs. So, when Murrow and his crew did the unthinkable, i.e. their jobs, in a time of crisis, it served as a high water mark for how journalism ought to react during times of crisis.

The ideal of journalism is to constantly question, not maintain, the status quo. With this in mind, it is inherent that, in light of this idea, journalists will always and without fail question even its president and military, regardless of whether or not war is imminent. Bill Moyers’ program of how journalism as a whole reacted to the invasion of Iraq bluntly states that war requires intense scrutiny and that the question, “Is this really necessary?” needs to be asked. Unfortunately, it was not during the coverage of the Iraq War, but the reason why isn’t impossible to understand. When images such as this…

…become reality, it’s natural for fear to take over within journalists, government officials and even the president. And while it’s important to come together as a nation, to mourn and to protect one another, the job of the journalist is, in the end, to question. Journalists are not perfect, and no one expects them to be. But to claim that a crisis situation does not deserve a contrarian or critical view is to stifle journalism, which is supposed to be a beacon for free speech.

In terms of the Iraq War and 9/11 coverage, the similarities between the coverages of those crises and that of McCarthy’s Blacklisting are striking. Both relied on the media to deliver a manufactured message to further underhanded motives, both labeled any disagreement with the status quo as anti-American and both used fear to stifle dissent. It wasn’t until Murrow and his crew called McCarthy on his contradictions that the truth was uncovered.

A major difference between these two instances, however, is the prevalence of new media in uncovering information. Now, when journalists fail to do their jobs, it isn’t necessarily a journalist that puts the profession back on track. Immediately after 9/11, guerrilla journalists, like Michael Moore and those guys that made Loose Change, stood in as a contrarian voice against the official stories about what had happened during and after 9/11. And even though the claims made by both of these examples were often proven wrong when critically analyzed, it served as proof that journalism was failing to ask the tough questions, leaving it in the hands of hyper-liberals and college conspiracy theorists. This is a doubled edged sword, however. Though it’s good that most people have a glut of information at their fingertips and can report what they see, a lack of critical training and simple contrarianism can lead to just as much misinformation as turning a blind eye so as to cover one’s own back, like many journalists did after 9/11.

As cliche as it is, it’s important to look at how Murrow and his crew handled reporting during crisis as the truest and best way to cover the news. Fear and emotion must eventually give way to analysis and critique if there is to be a government by the people and for the people.

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  1. March 4, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Very good. Great lead with the Murrow quote and your closing sentence is excellent. Though “eventually” should probably be “as soon as possible.”

  1. March 7, 2011 at 9:39 pm

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