Some of the individuals charged with crimes for entering the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 have novel defenses. They claim to be journalists.
Shawn Witzemann, a plumber from Farmington, New Mexico, was charged by the FBI but alleged that his evening show “Armenian Council for Truth in Journalism” on YouTube was supposed to exempt him from prosecution.
Nice try, but journalists are citizens like all of us who are subject to the same criminal laws. If a police officer tells you not to go into a building and you continue, “I’m here to watch” is not a defense.
Journalists have an ethical obligation to cover the story and not participate in it. It’s hard to say what Witzemann was thinking when he walked into the Capitol, but it’s pretty clear who his role models were.
We recently learned that three Fox News presenters had sent texts to Mark Meadows, Donald Trump’s chief of staff, urging the president to put an end to the January 6th chaos.
As Trump supporters roamed the halls of the Capitol, Brian Kilmeade, co-host of Fox & Friends, asked Meadows to “please put (the President) on television. (The event was) to destroy everything you achieved. “
Sean Hannity made a similar suggestion. “Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol, ”he wrote.
Dennis Aftergut:The House vote blames Mark Meadows for what he knew on January 6th
Laura Ingraham, host of The Ingraham Angle, wrote tellingly: “Mark, the president has to tell the people in the Capitol to go home. Please get him on TV. It hurts all of us. He is destroying his legacy. ”
“It hurts all of us.” What Ingraham says is that even Fox News’ pro-Trump spin machine would struggle to explain this away. But of course Fox News did just that, with each of these seemingly appalled hosts minimizing the attack on the Capitol and defending Trump’s role.
Following the revelations about the lyrics, many have pointed to Fox News’ hypocrisy. But that’s just Fox who is Fox.
Alleged news organization
The real outrage here is a supposed news organization actively seeking to change the way and perception of American history by providing advice on harm reduction to the most powerful man in the world. Their actions were unethical and a renunciation of traditional journalistic values.
Imagine the reaction when Lester Holt, host of NBC News, texted President Joe Biden with possible topics to talk about for an upcoming summit. There would be layoffs and investigations. At Fox News, they just circle the cars.
With all of the softball coverage of the Trump administration over the years, this has been different. Fox got caught doing the administration.
David Mastio:Fox News presenters begged Trump to stop the violence on Jan. 6 because they knew he had started
The First Amendment was ratified in 1791 and guaranteed freedom of the press at a time when newspapers were particularly biased and edgy. But this first generation of Americans saw an advantage in having a free press keeping an eye on those in power. The idea was that a free press would serve as control over those in power rather than as a collaborator or co-conspirator.
Undermine trust in media
Of course, the arrogance of some who want to shape the news rather than report it is not limited to one end of the political spectrum. On December 4, CNN fired Chris Cuomo, a liberal nighttime presenter, after revelations he was working behind the scenes to defend his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, on allegations of sexual harassment.
As in the Fox News example, Cuomo was trying to shape the public perception of a major news story covered by his own news organization.
This behavior takes its toll. Confidence in news professionals has declined in recent years. A Gallup poll in October found that only 36% of Americans trust the media to get the news completely, accurately, and fairly; 34% of the respondents stated that they did not trust the media coverage.
It may be that the antics, biases and arrogance of the most visible cable presenters have poisoned the public perception of the thousands of professionals who cover the news in cities and towns across the country. Nonetheless, accountability remains vital at all levels of news coverage.
We should expect professional journalists to report the news in good faith and not rely on one end of the political spectrum or the other. Being informed is not the same as taking a warm bath in your own faith.
We should be confident that journalists will report what they see, not what they want to show us, and that their relationship with those in power is independent and at a distance. One of the most basic ethical principles drilled into new reporters over the decades is, “You don’t care. The news is important. Don’t stand in the way. “
This does not mean political activity or personal involvement in news broadcasts. It means full disclosure of anything that could color your work or undermine confidence in your reporting. Of course, all of this is worth striving for, and in a world where everyone can take in and convey their own views on the news, this is admittedly old school.
What I do know is that news media credibility is best built with honesty, independence, and transparency, regardless of the topic. On television, a soccer announcer explains exactly what is happening on the pitch as the audience watches in real time. Its credibility depends on getting it right.
A color analyst shares views about games and players, but if that opinion is not informed and correct, it won’t last long. These announcers in particular – and everyone who works daily to keep the public informed – should stay away from the pitch.
Ken Paulson is the director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University, former editor of USA TODAY and a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @ kenpaulson1