Critical Thinking: Should Journalists Be Held to a Higher Standard of Truth Even When They are Not Reporting the News?

Critical Thinking: Should Journalists Be Held to a Higher Standard of Truth Even When They are Not Reporting the News?

In February, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams recanted his story about being in a helicopter that had been hit by enemy fire and forced down during the Iraq War in 2003. Considering this, should journalists be held to a higher standard of truth even when they are not reporting the news?

Melanie Potter, 21, senior, Loyola University (New Orleans, La.)
Potter is a mass communication senior with a focus in journalism. She is the current editor of Loyola’s magazine, The Wolf. She has also been city editor and life and times editor of Loyola’s weekly newspaper, The Maroon. Potter has previously written for The Marblehead Reporter, Panorama Magazine, Nola Baby and Family Magazine.

In my opinion, a world-renowned journalist like Brian Williams is held to the highest degree of truth. It is difficult for one’s journalist persona to be distinguished from their personal persona. Brian Williams “the journalist” cannot be separated from Brian Williams “the entertainer.”

The problem that Williams faces is that he is an entertainer, in addition to a journalist. He got caught up in the fame and notoriety that came with living in pop culture. Williams appeared on countless talk and comedy shows, acting as himself. As an entertainer, Williams got carried away in his own story and embellished the truth to get an amplified reaction from audiences.

While Williams was not formally representing NBC Nightly News during these performances, he is still associated with the news. As a well-respected journalist, he is married to the news and should always be faithful.

Because Williams’ primary occupation is a journalist, he must act as such. America turns on their TVs to watch him report the facts. When Williams signed on to be the NBC Nightly News anchor, he made his choice to be a journalist, first and foremost.

While I do believe what Williams did was wrong, I don’t believe he is the villain the media is painting him to be. Williams has admitted fault and apologized; I’m sure from this very public and embarrassing ordeal, he has learned his lesson.

As a journalist, you must report the facts. The entire country is counting on journalists like Brain Williams to tell the truth; because at the end of the day, all we have is our word.

Michael Anastasi, 49, executive editor, Los Angeles News Group
Anastasi has been vice president of news and executive editor of the Los Angeles News Group since August 2012. Prior to that, he served as managing editor of The Salt Lake Tribune for eight years.

Is there a “higher” standard of truth? Facts are facts. An event happened or it did not.

Journalists and journalism stand for truth, always. We strive to be people of integrity in all things, not just some things. We strive for that standard in our reporting and in our actions as professionals who chronicle the world around us.

Often, people can interpret the same event differently—she was an excellent legislator, she was a poor legislator; the concert was great, the concert was bad—but the underlying facts cannot be changed. A concert took place, this person served in office.

Our industry has traditionally dealt sternly with offenders when fabrication has been exposed because it is so grievous—recall Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley among notable examples.

That is because a journalist, to be a journalist, must hold truth as a virtue above all others. We may make mistakes because we were sloppy, or hurried, or inexperienced or simply human, and those errors come with their own consequences. But intentionally misrepresenting the truth cuts to the very essence of who we are and what we do.

More importantly, it cuts to the very essence of what our audiences expect us to be.

Our work speaks for itself. Let it.

A journalist, to be a journalist, must be a conveyor of truth. And, I say, there is but one standard.

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Published: April 17, 2015


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