The need for a 'true journalistic' revolution

To reverse many of the post-9/11 civil liberty encroaching policies, there must be a return to Photo: Freelance photographer being shoved to the ground/ AP

WASHINGTON, January 9, 2013 ― Paramount to reversing post-9/11, civil-liberty compromising policies, there must be a demand for a restoration of freedom of the press.

For the people to mobilize, they must be well-informed, and for that they need a free press. Alexis de Tocqueville described the importance of the press to any democratic republic in his “Democracy in America.” “The more I observe the main effects of a free press, the more convinced am I that, in the modern world, freedom of the press is the principal and, so to say, the constitutive element of freedom. A nation bent on remaining free is therefore right to insist, at whatever cost, on respect for this freedom.”

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Activist, media critic, and author Norman Solomon is deeply interested in the current state of the press, and possible strategies to encourage an environment conducive to “true journalism.” True journalism may be defined as journalists who refuse to engage in partisan talking points, refuse to serve corporate or government interests, and refuse to act as stenographers to government officials.

While the intentions of true journalism sound promising, Solomon notes the impediments. “I think our challenges are many and varied. The government intervention on what should be the flow of public discourse is huge- while not the only major problem. There’s always been at least subtle pressure I think in our lifetime, and not so subtle pressure on journalists and sources not to rock too many boats.”

Norman Solomon

Solomon cites the current model of television as another significant impediment to true journalism. TV offers programming that is more often aimed at advancing the platform of one Party or the other and discussing celebrity trivialities. Such a model ultimately prevents issues of consequence from being raised and evaluated.

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“The degrading effect has been enormous. A lot of it has been about the profit motive, and the way that it is driven by ratings, and advertising, all the rest of it … In the judgment of the hierarchy, it’s better to be wrong but be conformist than be correct and be self marginalizing or vulnerable to be pushed to the margins.” The television model has created a careerist mindset for journalists and commentators. This “survival instinct” over true reporting prevents the dissemination of the complete, unbiased information necessary for the public to render informed opinions and decisions.

Solomon’s observations regarding the shift from true journalism to a careerist mentality is perhaps best explained by Leslie Gelb in an editorial for Foreign Affairs. On the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War, Gelb explained why he originally supported the invasion.

“My initial support for the war was symptomatic of unfortunate tendencies within the foreign policy community, namely the disposition and incentives to support wars to retain political and professional credibility,” he wrote. “We ‘experts’ have a lot to fix about ourselves, even as we ‘perfect’ the media. We must redouble our commitment to independent thought, and embrace, rather than cast aside, opinions and facts that blow the common — often wrong — wisdom apart. Our democracy requires nothing less.”

Another impediment to true journalism, Solomon says, is the increasing reluctance of whistleblowers to come forward. Not unlike the careerist journalist who fears for his position, the whistleblower, having witnessed the recent treatment of Chelsea (Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden, understands the very real possibility of prosecution and exile for their transgression.

Solomon explains that in order to further deter whistleblowing, the Obama administration has gone so far as to implement programs designed to quell dissent from within. “Along with the vitriol directed against Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden and others, there’s been less overt efforts like the Insider Threat Program,” says Solomon. “McClatchy news service exposed many months ago the Insider Threat Program that is telling millions of government employees that they should watch out for suspicious deviation from the norm.”

So, what is to be done to nurture an environment of true journalism? Certainly, the most important variable in the solution involves a recommitment of journalists to their trade over their long term employment prospects, in all forms of media. Solomon offers additional recommendations, citing the historically indispensible role of the whistleblower in exposing abuses and in fostering debate.

In order to encourage more whistleblowers to take the personal risk of speaking on the record, journalists must work to prevent them from being left hanging out to dry. “There is a sort of quite unfortunate tradition. It goes back — even as far back as The Pentagon Papers — where the media outlet is even eager to publish the fruits of the risk taken by the whistleblower, but then the whistleblower in the case of The New York Times has to sink or swim in their own capacity.”

Solomon concludes with the idea that a return to true journalism and activism might also be encouraged through the creation of communities to assist aspiring reporters. “Not to be over dramatic, but Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about how if you are going to be engaged in resistance you need community. How do we define that? Friends, family, colleagues, those who we can encourage and be encouraged by, and I think that is very important.”

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Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly is currently a college student majoring in History and Political Science. His writings have appeared in The Daily Local, Lew’s blog, The Washington Times,, and Freedom’s Phoenix Online Digital Magazine. He has been a popular guest political contributor to numerous national radio shows across the country, offering his perspective on a wide array of issues. 

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