An Open Letter to the Media on Ethical Duty

On the wall of the National Press Club in Washington, DC, is an inspiring treatise entitled The Journalist’s Creed, written by the late Walter Williams, who served as Dean of the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. The “Creed” reads as follows:

“I believe that the public journal is a public trust, that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is a betrayal of this trust.

“I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy, and fairness, are fundamental to good journalism.

“I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

“I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.

“I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentlemen; that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.

“I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.

“I believe that the journalism which succeeds best – and best deserves success – fears God and honors man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power; [is] constructive, tolerant but never careless; [is] self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers, but always unafraid; is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance, and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, and equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international goodwill and cementing world comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.”

I personally believe, and I think most reasonable people would agree, that if today’s practitioners were to follow the aforementioned blueprint, America, and the world, would be a much better place in which to live. Citizens would be far more educated, informed and conscientize on the requisite duties of citizenship within a “democracy,” and, given America’s place in the world, the global community would be better for it.

Unfortunately, in today’s corporate controlled, ego-driven media culture, most practitioners of the art (its seems) are content to serve as the hired guns of whomever is in a position to financially secure their allegiance, however ephemeral that might be. In such a climate truth is found in the eye of the beholder, as ethics and principles metamorphose into expediency. And for this we all pay the price.

On Wednesday, March 20, 2002, a gross violation of the Nation’s Creed (its stated commitment to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” for all) was taken yet another step, another downward spiral, as agents of America’s federal government, in unquestionable service to a foreign power (Israel), trampled upon the constitutional rights of its own citizens, in the shadow of the very institutions and monuments which help to serve as beacons of hope for people yearning to breathe free from around the world. In Northern Virginia good, decent, law abiding citizens of the Islamic faith, were terrorized by agents of the state, because religious and ideological bigotry in high places have been accorded the mask of legitimacy.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Injustice [unchecked] anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere,” and on the wall of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, in America’s capitol (Washington, DC), are a number of closely related and noteworthy inscriptions. One inscription reads:

“Almighty God hath created the mind free… All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion. No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry, or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.”

Another inscription reads: “I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Noble words. However, the longer one lives, one is often reminded of the enormous gulf which can sometimes exist between promise and fulfillment. The events of March 20th are just one such example.

The late William “Bill” Kunstler, in his book entitled ‘My Life As A Radical Lawyer’, wrote on page 317, “Today Muslims are the most hated group in the country; the moment a Muslim is accused of a crime, the specter of terrorism is raised and everyone panics.” This public mindset did not take place in a vacuum. You, journalists of America – one of the most critical links in the molding and shaping of public opinion, and the crafting and maintenance of good public policy – had something to do with this.

America is still a promise waiting to be fulfilled. Will you, O journalists, help America fulfill her promise, or will you facilitate her slide into oblivion? The way forward can be found in the principled embrace of the “journalist’s creed,” and then fortified by the acceptance and internalization of the good counsel found in a passage from Alan Paton’s ‘Cry The Beloved Country,’ wherein he wrote:

“I will no longer ask myself if this or that is expedient, only if it is right. I do it not because I am noble or unselfish, but because life slips away, and [because] I need for the rest of my journey a star that will not play false to me, a compass that will not lie. I do it because I can no longer aspire to the highest with one part of myself, but deny it with the other.”