Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Citizen Speaks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Citizen Speaks

Article excerpt

'IT'S amazing how everyone is aware of his rights!" said a black African editor whose own newspaper lived on the brink of shutdown by the government. In that short phrase he summed up what most impressed him about Americans, after six months here to study our media.

A citizen's sense of rights impels him to speak out. It's also, of course, an inclination that journalists feel and must watch closely.

Beyond that, professionals in the media need to resist the temptation to exploit the citizenry's underlying concern about their society by turning crime, family relations, sexual harassment, and other hot topics into tabloid TV and fast and loose docudrama. All's not lost: American journalism still has a front rank - The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC for business news, and CNN for crisis news, to list a few I follow. Journalists, acting as surrogates for citizens, have the opportunity to visit war zones, enter executive suites, ride election campaign buses, and strike up conversations with waiters, taxi drivers, and doormen when sizing up what's going on. The rules of journalism require that we state who we are so the sources are forewarned they may be quoted. The journalist must be a political independent so long as he or she is practicing the trade. This means avoiding any label as talk-show liberal or conservative. It would rule out revolving-door movement of talk-show hosts and columnists into and out of partisan political or government roles. Former political operatives like Chris Mathews do bring an insider's perspective, an ability to discount surface evidence, that is hard to match. And the pairing of speakers voicing opposing-party views can help articulate differences. But we have seen a confusion develop on the issue of objectivity as partisan practitioners, such as lawyers, migrate from the role of source to commentator to host. …

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