The Fourth Estate: Journalism and Facts
Journalism is not media is not opinion. The first obligation of journalism is to the truth. Its essence is the discipline of verification. Its first loyalty is to citizens.
We are old enough to remember Walter Cronkite. And R.W. Apple. And David Halberstam. We read reports from the front lines, and saw intrepid reporters speaking from the battlefield. All kinds of battlefields. Bernstein and Woodward’s investigation of Watergate rocked our world. We learned that journalists, and the information they uncover, are critical to our democracy. As citizens and lawyers we learned to revere the First Amendment, which protects the work of journalists. Journalists are not the enemy of the people. They are critical to the people's democracy.
"Media" is not coterminous with journalism. In newspapers and magazines, and even more in television and in social media, opinion is often confused with journalism, and opinions with facts. Sometimes we learn facts from the opiners, but real information starts with journalists. Journalism is fact finding, and fact finding is difficult. Journalists often have to work hard to get facts that may be complicated, and may be hidden. Getting them may be dangerous.
Once we have the facts, we have work to do too. Headlines cannot entirely encompass the facts or their implications. We must work hard to understand what the facts are. We must take the time to read, or listen, for more than a few seconds. Our inclination, and perhaps even our ability, to do that work--to grasp the facts and then think for ourselves--may have been affected by the availability of agreeable conclusions everywhere in the digital world. But it is a duty of citizenship to sort out what is fact from what is spin, so that we can decide what we think about the truth.
To confuse facts and opinions leaves us vulnerable to disinformation and manipulation. Including the disinformation that all journalism is fake. So we rely on, and honor, that stalwart coterie of journalists who uncover the facts, and bravely provide them to us. We like to listen to opinions as well--there are a lot of very smart people out there--and certainly we love to offer them. But we hope we know which is which. And how important are real journalism, and real journalists.