The declared war on news media is taking hold; it’s taking its toll, and it’s taking casualties. Everyone who values accurate accounts of community events, whether local to global in scope.
News crews reporting on demonstrations that have erupted in the past week following the May 25 death of George Floyd while in police custody outside Minneapolis have faced violence from both sides. Demonstrators attacked news crews in Phoenix and in front of the White House. Reporters were arrested in Minneapolis, New York City and Las Vegas; others in Minneapolis, Louisville, Ky, and Denver were shot by police.
Most of the attacks were recorded or occurred during live reports.
“In many of these cases, the police appear to be targeting the journalists,” reports the Committee to Protect Journalists, which found it necessary to issue guidelines for reporters covering protests and how to avoid, and what to do if the are targeted.
Journalists know the risks that come with the work, which many consider more a calling than a job. Reporters and photographers have risked, and fallen to, violence all over the world, including most events in recorded history — they’re the ones who recorded it. Reporters have stood, and died, alongside soldiers and warriors at virtually every war ever fought, armed only with pens, pads and cameras rather than firearms.
In most cases, however, those journalists have been objective observers, simply recording the events they witnessed. Most of the time the reporters, photographers and other news gatherers have resisted the urge to inject themselves into the battles.
Admittedly, that has changed in recent years. While advocacy journalism has always existed and most newspapers, including this one, reserve space for opinion that reflects the views of our management, our readers and other commentators, most news outlets have strived to remain objective in the news stories.
Elected officials, entertainers and other public figures have found success condemning news media for reporting their misdeeds rather than voicing contrition for committing them. Sages throughout history have observed the penchant of those in power to attack those who observe and report their misdeeds, rather than correct their behavior.
It’s a situation that we can’t allow to continue, much less deteriorate.
The public at large should recognize that those who chafe at news reporters and other observers usually have something to hide. At the same time, media outlets that recently have pursued higher numbers of followers by featuring opinion over facts, or blurring the line between the two, might consider whether stronger demarcations are necessary.
It’s long been acknowledged that objective reporters are important for any successful society, to inform residents of what is happening and pressuring, through their reporting, public officials to remain honest and accountable.
As people review the events of the past week and what changes need to be made, we trust that they see the need to improve rather than hinder the flow of objective information. Understanding is better secured when we promote communication, not when we attack it.