Time to stand up for jour­nal­ists

The Review - - OPINION - Gene Policin­ski Colum­nist Gene Policin­ski is pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the Free­dom Fo­rum In­sti­tute.

Un­like most of Time mag­a­zine’s “Per­son of the Year” de­signees since 1927, we can be cer­tain none of those fea­tured this year on that iconic, red-framed cover wanted to be there.

This year, Time has four cover im­ages, all rec­og­niz­ing jour­nal­ists who are im­pris­oned, fac­ing charges or who died in the pur­suit of news on be­half of the rest of us — col­lec­tively ti­tled, “The Guardians and the War on Truth.”

The se­lectees: Ja­mal Khashoggi, The Washington Post con­trib­u­tor be­lieved killed in Tur­key by a Saudi Ara­bian “hit squad;” the staff of the Cap­i­tal Gazette news­pa­per in An­napo­lis, Md., which saw five staffers killed by a de­ranged gun­man; Reuters news ser­vice re­porters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been jailed in Myan­mar for a year; and Philip­pine jour­nal­ist Maria Ressa, whose news site Rap­pler, a fre­quent govern­ment critic, faces du­bi­ous tax-re­lated charges.

Time said it se­lected the group “for tak­ing great risks in pur­suit of greater truths, for the im­per­fect but es­sen­tial quest for facts that are cen­tral to civil dis­course, for speak­ing up and speak­ing out.”

Those words, and that task, are as good a def­i­ni­tion of jour­nal­ism as we might want.

The de­scrip­tion also puts a lie to the core un­truths of those crit­ics who find any ex­cuse to bray — mostly for po­lit­i­cal gain — about “fake news,” or who claim “al­ter­na­tive facts” when faced with a re­al­ity they find un­com­fort­able or in­com­pat­i­ble with pre-con­di­tioned views.

Yes, jour­nal­ists — as all of us — can at times do an im­per­fect job. But the vast ma­jor­ity set out each day on that “es­sen­tial quest for facts.”

And in do­ing so, they act on our be­half, bring­ing us the in­for­ma­tion we need for both the de­ci­sions we make in our pri­vate lives and for the votes we cast as part of the great­est ex­per­i­ment ever seen in self-gov­er­nance.

These “Guardians” also stand for thou­sands of men and women in na­tions around the world who put them­selves in harm’s way each day to stand up to tyrants and tyranny. As the mag­a­zine noted, at least 52 jour­nal­ists have been mur­dered this year for sim­ply do­ing their jobs.

Hun­dreds more are im­pris­oned and threat­ened. The Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists notes 262 are now be­ing held and 60 are “miss­ing.”

Jour­nal­ists killed in the pre­vi­ous year, and more than 2,300 oth­ers since the early 1800s are rec­og­nized each June in a reded­i­ca­tion of the New­seum’s Jour­nal­ist Memo­rial, in Washington, D.C.

For those who ques­tion the mo­tives of all jour­nal­ists un­der mis­lead­ing and in­ac­cu­rate ref­er­ences to “the Me­dia,” — visit and learn the sto­ries of the men and women noted on that memo­rial. If your view of jour­nal­ism and those who prac­tice it doesn’t shift as a re­sult, you’re not re­ally think­ing.

The jour­nal­ists’ sto­ries were in­ter­twined with the sec­ond part of Time’s recog­ni­tion as the most “in­flu­en­tial” in 2018 — the ongoing ef­fort to ma­nip­u­late what is true and “the many ways in­for­ma­tion is be­ing used and abused across the globe.”

In an es­say, the mag­a­zine’s ed­i­tor-in-chief said it was “the com­mon thread in so many of this year’s ma­jor sto­ries, from Rus­sia to Riyadh to Sil­i­con Val­ley.”

In the name of those who died, who are wrongly im­pris­oned or threat­ened, and in the name of “truth,” the rest of us have an obli­ga­tion to step away from par­ti­san bick­er­ing and dis­grace­ful slo­ga­neer­ing — in­clud­ing that bo­gus claim by Pres­i­dent Trump and re­pres­sive regimes world­wide that jour­nal­ists are “en­e­mies of the peo­ple.”

Call for bet­ter re­port­ing, but also be will­ing to sup­port bet­ter jour­nal­ism.

Con­tinue to call for in­ves­ti­ga­tions and prose­cu­tions when­ever a jour­nal­ist is at­tacked or killed; don’t set­tle for a po­lit­i­cally ex­pe­di­ent de­ci­sion to ex­cuse or ig­nore such crim­i­nal con­duct.

De­fend jour­nal­ism and com­mit to the pur­suit of truth, even when it means ex­tra ef­fort to sep­a­rate it out from mis­lead­ing and false in­for­ma­tion.

In the name of those re­cently rec­og­nized for their courage and sac­ri­fice, it’s Time we all did that.

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