Stand up for Journalism: Our Most Important, Least Glamorous Profession

From the Mỹ Lai Massacre, to Love Canal to clergy sex abuse to the lead in Flint’s water, our awareness of urgent problems in our communities comes not from the West Wing or government officials (themselves elites) but from nosy, dogged and mostly under-compensated reporters doing their jobs and holding the powerful to account. 

Information (“cyber”) security is its own niche and the subjects that information security journalists write often (blessedly) transcend politics. Lawmakers in Washington D.C., for example, have never been more polarized. But when it comes to cyber security, there is broad and bi-partisan consensus on most major issues. (Not that this consensus has led to needed and meaningful cyber security legislation – because it hasn’t.)

But the fact that publications like The Security Ledger don’t often have to wade into the shark-infested waters of national politics doesn’t make us immune from broader attacks on the credibility of reporters and the press. That’s why The Security Ledger is joining with publications across the country today to call out President Donald J. Trump for his and his administration’s bilious, false and misleading attacks on the press. Faced with attentive and entirely predictable coverage of his words and actions (official and unofficial), our President has chosen to attack a pillar of our democracy: a free press.

NSA Poster - Freedom of the Press
A National Security Agency employee education campaign from the 1950s underscores the connection between the agency’s mission and core U.S. values such as Freedom of the Press.

No pass for this Pres – or any other

Despite Mr. Trump’s proven penchant for lying and exaggeration, his flimflammery and mastery of the kind of fantastic arguments that the French philosopher of language Jacques Derrida termed “kettle logic,” there is good evidence that many of his followers take his attacks at face value anyway. As noted by The Boston Globe, an IPSOS poll of 1,003 U.S. adults conducted in early August found that almost half (49%) of respondents who identified of Republican agreed with the statement that “the news media is the enemy of the American people.” More alarming: a plurality of Republican-identified respondents (43%) agreed with the statement “The president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.”

Simply put: that is shocking, and shockingly un-American. Support for a free press is as old as our democracy. No less than Thomas Jefferson – himself the target of 18th century tabloids and sensational reporting – saw newspapers as critical to the functioning of a democracy.

“The way to prevent (the) irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people,” Jefferson wrote in 1787. “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” Jefferson said.

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” Jefferson said.

And no president in the modern era has received a “pass” from the media at home or abroad. Republican Richard Nixon had a far more hostile and testy relationship with the press than Mr. Trump, who has been feted and coddled by national media outlets for decades. Nixon’s attacks on- and attempts to change what he called “media bias” are legendary and echo those of the current President. In the end he was hounded from office by the tenacious reporting of The Washington Post, New York Times and others. But even after leaving office in disgrace, he never declared a free press the enemy of the people. Bill Clinton faced years of press scrutiny of his private life, business dealings and public acts. He was impeached in a highly partisan effort to remove him from office and endured withering criticism throughout his two terms as president. He never suggested that a free press was the enemy of the people. My guess is that neither man said it because they knew it to be a false and dangerous idea – and because it sounded too much like what our longtime adversaries in Moscow, Beijing or Tehran might say.

We can all point to examples of reporting that we did not enjoy or appreciate – stories that were poorly reported, slanted or trivial and off-putting. And, frankly, much of what passes for “news” on television these days is little more than invective: light on substance, but loaded up with attitude and speculation. That’s unfortunate. But it is also true that balanced, sober and well reported news is out there on television, in print and online if you care to find it. You don’t like Fox and Friends or Rachel Maddow’s vibe? Tune into the Peabody award winning PBS Newshour with Judy Woodruff. It won’t get your blood boiling, but you will end the program a lot more informed than when you began it. The diversity of voices in our media market reflects the diversity and pluralism of America itself.

Seeking to Muzzle The Truth

Unfortunately, what Mr. Trump and his followers are asking for isn’t a press that is more “fair and balanced,” but a press that is docile and subservient. Mr. Trump seems to yearn for a press that abandons its duty to report the truth and uncritically lionizes him, as a Great Leader, while parroting the talking points of his administration, facts be damned. If that sounds familiar, its because that’s what outlets like RT, Sputnik and that Cold War favorite Pravda regularly do for The Kremlin. That’s never been the way we do things here in the U.S. It is concerning that a substantial minority of the population now yearns for it.

Most outrageous of all are Mr. Trump and his supporters portrayal of reporters as media “elites” – wealthy, aloof intellectuals who are ‘talking down’ to ordinary Americans. Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, journalism is one of our nation’s most important, least glamorous professions. While it might be easy to miss that staring into the piercing blue eyes of Yale graduate and Vanderbilt heir Anderson Cooper or trying to keep up with the lofty narratives spun by Rachel Maddow (Stanford, Oxford), the vast, vast majority of journalists earn their degrees from far less prestigious schools and spend their careers working not the halls of power in Washington D.C. but local state houses and city halls – toiling in near obscurity for subsistence wages. Indeed, the average salary for journalists nation-wide is just $40,000.  In exchange for those meager wages, these men and women do incredibly valuable work: exposing the scourge of opioid addiction, calling attention to problems like poisoned water or providing critical local context to national stories.

From the Mỹ Lai Massacre, to Love Canal to clergy sex abuse to the lead in Flint’s water, our awareness of urgent problems in our communities comes not from the West Wing or government officials (themselves elites) but from nosy, dogged and mostly under-compensated reporters doing their jobs and holding the powerful – like President Trump – to account.

Rather than rallying around his calls for a muzzled, docile and tame media, you should do the opposite: subscribe to your local newspaper and the newspaper serving your city or state. You should give your money also to support the work of investigative news outlets like ProPublica,  the Center for Public Integrity, the Center for Investigative Reporting, the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and more.

Spread the word!

One Comment

  1. Jeff Strubberg

    The press as a whole has brought this upon themselves by showing decades of favoritism and becoming drama queens instead of seeking truth. Mr Trump is obviously no paragon of truth and virtue, but his lashing out at the press is not without a basis in a true problem.

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