Government & Politics

The Journalist's Creed: Another Forgotten Tradition

It seems the days of honest reporting of the facts is long gone, replaced by the activist-as-journalist pushing an agenda.

James Shott · Jun. 6, 2017

The National Press Club in Washington, DC, features a bronze wall plaque containing the Journalist’s Creed on display since 1958. The Creed was created by Walter Williams — not the brilliant economist and columnist of today, but an older gentleman who is credited with starting the world’s first school of journalism in 1908 at the University of Missouri. In 1914, Williams drafted the Creed, as “a declaration and personal affirmation of the principles, values and standards of journalists throughout the world,” according to the Fourth Estate organization. It regards journalism as an ethical public trust that requires accuracy and fairness.

In fact, it reads in part, “the journalism which succeeds best — and best deserves success — fears God and honors Man.” How would that go over in today’s newsrooms?

Since Williams created the Creed, and especially in the years since the Press Club’s acknowledgement of it in ‘58, huge changes in the way news is distributed have occurred. Now in addition to newspapers, periodicals, radio and television we have the Internet with its social media.

These days absolutely anyone can appear to be a legitimate news source on the Internet. Many or most of these sources may have good intentions, but they lack the background or discipline to do it correctly. They are unaware of, or ignore the Creed.

Even some who know the importance of the ethics with which news journalism should be practiced don’t stick to the straight and narrow. Being first in reporting is often more important than being correct. “Click bait,” the term for overly sensational headlines designed to increase the number of visitors to websites, is common. If a headline ends with “You won’t believe what happened next,” it’s click bait that’s probably not worth reading.

In addition to new media technologies come new media genres, such as the speculative media: Trying to be first, a hint of something often spurs frantic action to get out there before anyone else through online or on-air media. For example, when President Donald Trump reached back for Melania’s hand while exiting a plane on their recent trip abroad, and she sort of flipped her hand away, the media reported that there might be trouble in their marriage. There was no story here.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, a Catholic, was not among those who met the Pope on the trip, so the media reported that his exclusion might signal that Spicer was on his way out as spokesman. This was space filler.

The assumption media: When Trump mentioned being “wiretapped,” it was “assumed” that he meant wiretapping and only wiretapping, not the newer, more modern methods of surveillance, apparently widely used by the Obama administration.

The agenda media: We saw very little reporting on the positive aspects of Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and NATO, but there was plenty on the “troubles” in Trump’s administration. And, in case you missed it in every news report and newspaper edition since November, there are rumors of Trump’s campaign colluding with Russia to win the 2016 election. They’re all anonymously sourced (another increasingly common feature of news “reporting”) and meant to delegitimize Trump, not convey actual news. It isn’t a story; it’s Leftmedia made-up mania.

Pollaganda: The media use polls to drive, rather than reflect, public opinion. In other words, propaganda.

Next, let’s consider the recent kerfuffle over Kathy Griffin, the self-described “D-list comedian,” who worked very hard to create a disgusting, low-class image of her holding a bloody likeness of the decapitated head of the president of the United States, Islamic State-like, by its hair. Criticized by nearly everyone for this repulsive display of what she claims is humor, she finally issued a hard-to-believe apology.

Shortly thereafter, the firestorm of anger and disgust she stirred up created for her a moment of brilliant insight: The negative reaction to her gross attempt at “humor,” and her resulting misery, is actually Trump’s fault. “He broke me,” she sobbed, adding, “What’s happening to me has never happened, ever, in the history of this great country, which is that a sitting president of the United States, his grown children, and the first lady are personally, I feel, personally trying to ruin my life forever. Forever.”

Poor deranged Kathy’s campaign about her hurt feelings at the hands of her imaginarily beheaded enemy received a lot of media coverage.

There are plenty of other examples. Wesley Pruden, Editor Emeritus of The Washington Times, is a man trained in and who worked in journalism when standards were more broadly expected of practitioners. He characterized a Bloomberg News reporter’s G7 coverage like this: “Just what a 'bromance’ is [between France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau], beyond the not-so-clever wordplay, sounds like too much information, something you ought not to want to know about. It’s no doubt overheated reporting by a reporter who never had an editor to teach him the rewards of restraint.” Pruden continued, “Romance was clearly in the air, not between the leaders of France and Canada, but by reporters nurtured not on the rough edges of politics and discipline of newspapers, but by too much time spent watching soap operas.”

Another old pro, Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal, said this about today’s practice of the profession: “When journalists drop objectivity to become part of the shout-fest, and when grass-roots activists move beyond making voices heard to voicing threats against those with whom they disagree, they are adding to the problem.”

These examples of journalistic malpractice and comments about news coverage from two old timers show how far news reporting has strayed early in the 21st century.

Combined with a general public largely unconcerned with studying current events, America has a real problem. Many consumers of news receive their “news” from their friends on social media, and they accept as true those communications that fit their preconceptions. They just don’t look beneath the surface for fact.

With all these factors, the public is largely under-informed, or misinformed — a circumstance both dangerous and foolish. That ignorance serves the leftist agenda.

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