As We Enter 2019, an Ideal Worth Remembering
By now you’re aware of Jamal Khassoggi, The Washington Post columnist who was chopped into pieces in a Saudi Arabia consulate, leading to international outrage and condemnation of the Saudis by almost anyone with a conscience.
You might remember Rob Hiaasen, though you’re more likely to remember his famous brother, Florida fiction author Carl Hiaasen. And even if you do, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara and Wendi Winters are names that have left your memories. And you won’t remember that they were journalists slain when a gunman shot up the newsroom of Maryland’s Capital Gazette.
We are reminded of them as exemplars of 2018 as part of Time’s “Person of the Year” awarded to the “guardians,” journalists who have sought the truth. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 50 journalists around the world were slain in 2018, and more than 250 imprisoned.
Journalism has gone through a tough decade, beyond the carnage. Much of the damage has been on the business end, such as a slow acceptance of emerging technologies.
A hyper-partisan America doesn’t help. People have retreated to social media safe zones. The first ingredient of democracy -- fact-based debate -- has suffered. It’s easier to throw rocks at others from a distance, or to muck the waters with “what about” false equivalence.
On these pages, you may despise Eugene Robinson, think George Will a GOP traitor, and hail Michelle Malkin as the savior of journalism. Or, you may brand Marc Thiessen as a Fox News parrot, and enjoy E.J. Dionne’s sharp takes. It’s what fits your world view. They all appear here, not out of wishy-washy centrism but as healthy discourse.
Having an opinion is easy. That’s why, as the saying goes, opinions are like noses -- everyone has one.
Thousands of journalists leave home every day with the same goal, to report the truth without fear or favor. They sit through boring municipal meetings, pore over public records, keep a check on institutions and speak truth to power. There’s little glamour in it. But it’s their calling, their reason for breathing. “Spotlight” and “The Post” are their superhero movies.
Some reporters work in war zones where every story could be their last. Most work in community newsrooms, under the constant pressure of elected officials who privately threaten and berate, or are derided by readers when hard facts challenge beliefs. “Fake news” is not the sole province of the commander in chief. (Know that social media post about how the media is ignoring all those soldiers who died last week? The deaths were reported ... when the soldiers died eight years ago.)
Time’s award is not about a person but an ideal: Attempting to seek the truth and failing is far more noble than obfuscating to score political points. So raise your glasses to 2019, to America’s military and to its first responders tonight, but hold a kind thought in mind for journalists who do the dirty work, and for those who died doing it.
Continued corrosion of media can only lead to Babel, a land of a million voices yelling into the wind and no one listening. And then, where will our democracy be?