“Our democracy is strongest when we have a free, open press that informs citizens, holds public officials accountable, and roots out corruption.”
— U.S. Congressman
David N. Cicilline (RI-01)
Earlier this month, The Charleston-Gazette Mail, in collaboration with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power, wrote an article detailing Gov. Jim Justice’s many conflicts of interest as both a businessman and an elected official.
It was a foreseeable situation – Justice has never made his business dealings a secret, and it doesn’t take much investigation to realize as governor, Justice is effectively part of the legislative body that regulates many of his own businesses.
Despite what his administration called a “moratorium” on state spending at The Greenbrier, one of Justice’s many properties, the Gazette Mail and ProPublica found that various government agencies spent upwards of $100,000 there. In response, Justice played into the growing Orwellian narrative that news media can’t be trusted.
He compared the Gazette Mail to the National Enquirer, and said “They’re a waste of time. They make no news. All they do is throw garbage.”
It’s worth noting that the Charleston-Gazette Mail, the newspaper Justice called a waste of time, won the Pulitzer prize in 2017 for its coverage of the opioid epidemic. It’s also worth noting that Justice did not refute any of the actual reporting – something that could easily be done if the reporting was untrue. Instead, Justice opted to dismiss the article entirely.
The danger inherent in this behavior should be clear. When one completely disregards truth and instead presents their own reality, corruption and abuse abound. Who would speak truth to power if not for journalists?
Journalists abide by a professional code of ethics. Our primary goal, unrelated to political parties, is the recording of truth. It is not our job to make the truth more palatable, nor is it incumbent on us to make sure that truth aligns with certain political beliefs or interests.
Journalism has a long history of exposing political corruption all over the spectrum. It was journalists who broke the story on power abuses within the NSA.
It was journalists who analyzed and made public the crimes evidenced by the Panama papers. It is journalism, the so-called Fourth Estate, that is responsible for informing the public beyond political rhetoric.
Fear or hatred of the press often comes down to fear or hatred of the truth – something innocent people wouldn’t have to worry about.
There are, of course, exceptions to this – news sources that choose their stories carefully to fit a narrative their audience finds more in line with their politics.
Those are usually easy to spot, but a good rule of thumb is to take any news source with a grain of salt if it consistently displays a political bias in one direction. A well-informed electorate is one of the most essential things for a healthy democracy.
We should reject a business that masquerades as news while pushing propaganda – and, just as importantly, we should reject anyone who views truth as an enemy.