Like many other Americans, I tuned in to the Newsroom when it aired. I was drawn in by the intelligent dialog, particularly that first episode when the young college student asks, “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?” I don’t know what I was expecting but the response has stayed with me, particularly, these words, “ We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people.” And these words, “We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy.” Damn, I still get chills reading those words.
When other little girls dreamed of being a Princess or marrying THE one, or being a Hollywood actress, I dreamed of being the next Edward R. Murrow. I lettered in journalism in school, two years running and worked for five years at a small local newspaper. I must have watched “All the President’s Men” a half dozen times. Even Darren McGavin’s Kolchak the Night Stalker with the bumbling cowardly reporter was a hero of mine. He was scared and a bit shady, and definitely rumpled, but in the end, he did the right thing. I’ve always considered freedom of the press to be sacred, the right to protect sources, an inviolate protection.
I would love to blame Trump and his party of corruption for the distrust and the “fake news” movement we see every day, but doing so would be a cop out. The reality is that I blame all of us for what is happening, all parties, all Americans. We need truth seekers, we need to hear unpleasant facts and we need to question those we elected. Above all, we need to take a page from Spiderman, “With great power there must also come great responsibility.” This holds true for elected officials, for law enforcement officers, for CEOs, and yes, for journalists, broadcasters, radio talk show hosts, etc. Those that have a bigger stick, megaphone, higher office, or padded wallet have more power and their words have more impact. That is reality.
I believe most Americans want truth, they want facts to make important decisions, they want to feel safe in their community, and they want to trust their government. That means we need information, not data. Data tells us nothing, it’s noise, it’s radio talk show hosts screaming, spittle flying. It’s alternative facts, and screams of fake news, and a constant thirst for higher ratings. None of that is information.
Journalism at its best can give us information. It can give us context, provide analysis, report when those in power are corrupt. Good reporting can flush out the abusers, protect the vulnerable, and serve as our country’s watchdog, our early warning system. This only works if we demand accountability, if we demand that entertainment and ratings do not govern news, and if we stop hating each other long enough to talk to each other. I believe we are at a cross road, we can continue to let data drive wedges between us, we can lose our humanity in the noise or we can stop. Just stop. Take a breath, when you hear or read or are told something as fact, ask yourself, does this elicit an emotional response? Is it backed by sources, do the subject matter experts in this field agree? Were they even interviewed? We can demand excellence in reporting. We can demand accountability and in doing so, we can hold ourselves and those in power to a higher standard. “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore, but we could be.” (Thanks to the Newsroom cast and writers for giving me faith in television again).