President Donald Trump hates the media. This is abundantly clear. He has taken to calling those media outlets who disparage him and his administration and with whom he disagrees, “fake news”. The dangers of this rhetoric have been well-discussed and debated.
But this isn’t about that. I wrote about that previously. This is more important.
Following the initial confusion, controversy and clamor of his comments regarding immigrants and crime in Sweden, President Trump revealed the source of his soundbite. Fox News. He had taken his information straight from Fox News.
Specifically, the President had watched a story on Fox News taken from an interview Tucker Carlson had conducted with journalist Ami Horowitz. In this interview Horowitz discussed his recent investigation of refugees in Sweden. Horowitz told Carlson that his investigation had found huge societal problems in Sweden directly linked to the country’s large influx of Middle Eastern refugees.
He cited the most recent Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention statistics which show an increase in the number of murders and reported incidents of rape in the past year.
Horowitz is correct. Murders and rapes have increased in Sweden in the past year. But this is taken out of context. In actuality, and correctly interpreted and studied, while incidents of murder and rape have increased, other individual crimes have decreased. Furthermore, individual crime in Sweden has remained flat over the past decade. It has also been reported that Horowitz misrepresented the views of Swedish police officers interviewed for his documentary.
Yet the content of this interview made it into a speech given by the President. Eric Wemple at the Washington Post shows a clear line between the interview and the speech.
First, Trump watches a Fox News segment; then he repeats the conclusions of that segment at an anticipated rally; then he discloses where he sourced the material; then he scoffs at the backlash, insulting an ally in the process. Ergo, Fox News is making U.S. foreign policy.
While no actual foreign policy has been made and the actual process by which policy would be made would be much more complicated than Wemple presents, this incident presents a conundrum for journalists. Not so much a conundrum as a responsibility.
Journalists have a responsibility to report facts, no matter if they draw the ire of politicans and others. In fact, because reality is subjective there many times remains room for journalists to interpret the facts in different ways or in different contexts. There can be news for all different backgrounds, persuasions and partisans.
Except when the facts are merely the facts.
In 1914, the first dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, Walter Williams, wrote the “Journalist’s Creed“. This declaration spells out what Williams saw as the principles, values and standards of journalists.
I believe in the profession of journalism.
I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.
I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.
I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.
I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.
I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.
I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.
I believe that the journalism which succeeds best — and best deserves success — fears God and honors Man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.
In short, what is presented as “news” must be fair, must be accurate, must be independent, must be in the interest of the consumer and above all must be for the public good.
These are the responsibility of the journalist. The necessity of this Creed and the necessity of all journalists to abide by these principles, values and standards becomes magnified when a clear line can be drawn between “the news” and United States policy.
Policy and the news are both based on information. In the best interest of both and in both practices that information must be confirmed to be as complete as possible, as accurate as possible and as fair as possible. If not, the news ceases to be information and becomes entertainment. If not, policy ceases to be in the public interest and becomes a private good for the selectorate.
Journalism succeeds best when it affects lives. It is imperative that effect is a public good.
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