Journalism is under an existential threat. But journalists, combined with a media-literate public, can combat it.
W. Lance Bennett, a political scientist and media scholar, wrote in his book “News: The Politics of Illusion,” that the key to democratic journalism is for journalists to hold those in power accountable.
However, in America there is a growing sentiment that the media must be the ones held accountable, and that they are destroying the nation. In the months leading up to the United States’ invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration made two central claims: That the 9/11 attacks originated in Iraq and that Iraq had access to nuclear weapons. Both of these claims were false.
In a time of national mourning for the victims of 9/11, the American people wanted a scapegoat and they wanted the Bush administration to take action against those who perpetrated the attack. The American news media were reluctant to hold the Bush administration accountable for fear of being seen as anti-patriotic. And if they did hold the Bush administration accountable, they feared losing access to information and sources that would help them report political news.
A guiding principle for all journalists is that of objectivity. When a publisher claims a news story is objective, it says that story is fair, equal, balanced and unbiased in all respects when it goes to press. Most journalists lay claim to objectivity, believing themselves to have completely ushered in a completely truthful story once published. Their professional reputation is at stake if they do not.
But the unfortunate truth is that no journalist can achieve complete objectivity. Journalism, as discussed in the Your World Today column published Oct. 22, follows the coherence theory of truth. This theory involves gathering as many perspectives as possible to create a fact-based narrative of events. But truthfully, it is absolutely impossible to represent all sides.
Because of this dilemma, many news organizations have stopped making claims to objectivity and have abandoned it as a value entirely. This has paved the way for partisan influence in reporting the news and the unfortunate blur between news and entertainment.
However, just because one can never achieve objectivity does not mean it is not worth pursuing. The desire to represent all sides and give all parties involved a fair chance to represent themselves is a hallmark of journalism many news outlets are beginning to sway away from. Audiences that are used to hearing facts and all sides represented in news can easily become misled. This problem is only exacerbated by intentional efforts to control the media.
Since the deregulatory period between the 1980s and 1990s, 15 billionaires acquired all of American’s news media, according to an article on Forbes’ website from 2016.
In December 2014, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson secretly purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal, according to Forbes. In a bout of irony, The Review-Journal’s reporters found out and wrote stories on how they discovered Adelson’s step-son was the secret buyer who was passing down orders to reporters.
Politico reported in 2016 that “stories involving new owner Sheldon Adelson are being reviewed, changed or killed almost daily.” It also said an anonymous insider explained that “Adelson bought the paper because of the content.” What’s more, reporters were asked to monitor a judge presiding over a case involving Adelson.
There’s no doubt about it — the new owner of the Review-Journal bought the paper to censor it, and has successfully done so. However, Politico continued to report many members of the Review-Journal attempted to resist corporate influence or left the paper. Although the paper went down the drain, the journalists who produced it maintained their integrity throughout the process.
Media conglomerates are killing journalism and the loss of advertising in print is suffocating local papers into submitting to larger companies. Journalists serve a disapproving and media-illiterate public in providing it the information it does not want but needs. Politicians and public figures are taking advantage of the public’s discontent with the media to spin their own narrative.
But no matter what, journalists must stay true to the cause of objectivity and fairness. They must not fall under the thumb of those who might try to sway what news is produced and not produced. Finally, they must not allow themselves to be bullied into turning a blind eye to the injustices of the world, or being swayed in the news they cover — or do not.
"Your World Today" is a weekly column written by the editor-in-chief of The Slate. It represents solely the subjective opinion of the individual who wrote it. For Staff Editorial opinions, see this week's "The Slate Speaks."