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Kill All the Journalists

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Since the invention of the printing press in 1456, journalism, the gathering, transmitting, and reporting of news, has had a major impact and influence on the public. The job of a journalist is to investigate and report issues, events, and trends to a broad audience. If one examined closely, it is seen that a number of problems in our present-day society can be attributed to journalism. Journalists are stressed to only employ objective writing. However, this is often an extremely difficult if not impossible task. Journalists tend to almost always be partisan in their writing. Journalism is a very powerful force which can be corrupted and manipulated to be used to an advantage over the common people. The famous Napoleon once said: “three hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”

There are numerous examples in history in which journalism has negatively impacted society. Yellow journalism is a term given to a type of journalism that presents no factual value but instead uses misleading headlines, eye-catching pictures, fake interviews, etc. to sell more copies. During the late 1800’s, the infamous journalists Hearst and Pulitzer published a large amount of articles on Spanish brutality in Cuba; most of which were overly exaggerated or untrue and only published to gain greater business and a competitive edge. Finally, articles were published, once again by newspaper companies owned by either Hearst or Pulitzer, accusing the Spanish for the explosion and sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine (later on proved to be untrue). Most of the public population trusts newspapers to present factual and unbiased information. Yellow journalism was a primary cause for the U.S. declaring war against Spain in 1898; a war that was both costly and unnecessary but created lots of news. This presents an example of journalism being used for the benefit of a few at the cost of many.

A similar incident is mentioned in Elaine Sciolino’s article, “When Reporters Chose Sides: Spain looks back at its Civil War.” The article discusses that one of the main causes of the Spanish Civil War was foreign influence taking the form of “objective” media or journalism. Sciolino explains that “the writers and foreign correspondents who came to Spain invented a new kind of war journalism, reporting…accounts [of] brutal feel of the battlefield.” Agents of Mussolini and Hitler, who supported Franco, were sent to Spain to create “ideological battles of the time.” Other journalists came in order to “write what [they] see, what [they] feel;” which is a completely paradoxical statement considering the job of a journalist is to deliver the truth and only the truth. Not opinions, views, or what is felt. Journalists were awarded for taking sides in the conflict. This is just one of many examples in which journalism was used for the benefit of a few in an effort to confuse the masses and pass on pieces of writing as news.

One of the common insidious tactics used by journalists is selective quoting. With clever uses of ellipses and reorganization of text one can completely change the original meaning of a quote. In the article “Bulb Wars: Critic Strikes Back,” Charles Isherwood states that “selective quoting is one of the oldest games” and “ellipses are not a good sign.” With the use of this strategy, journalists, advertisers, etc. can hold on to their argument that they printed only things stated by other people, and thus did not introduce their own opinion into the piece of writing.

Similarly, in a letter to the editor titled “The Photograph of a Dying Soldier,” Raymond T. Odierno expresses his concern for the use of a photograph. Odierno explains that “the soldier depicted in the photograph…is that [of a] young man, who so valiantly gave his life in service of others was displayed…in the gravest condition.” In this case, the press has dishonored the soldier and his family after everything he has done for our country. In addition, Odierno notes that publishing the photograph was a violation of the Multinational Forces-Iraq News Media Ground Rules. It can be seen here that many times the press can be very offensive to toward a group of people even though it wasn’t intended.

Often times, journalists are unaware when they incorporate their own opinion in an article. In the article “Journalism is not a Capital Crime,” Khaled Hosseini condemns the Afghanistan government for sentencing a journalist to death for distributing an article that seemed to present the religion of Islam in a negative way. What Hosseini fails to recognize is that the article published (regardless of the author) is completely subjective since it gives an interpretation of the Koran and an opinion on an issue. Therefore, it cannot be distributed in a public area as news and factual information. It is true, however, this does not excuse the Afghanistan government for giving such a harsh punishment for such a small crime, but that is a completely different story and argument. The important thing to realize here is, it is extremely difficult and almost impossible to write a completely objective piece of writing.

The idea presented earlier is explained in the article “Hazarding Personal opinions in Public Can Be Hazardous for Journalists,” by Byron Calame. The article discusses an instance where Ms. Greenhouse, a reporter for The New York Times, failed to adhere to The Times’ guideline when she expressed her views and opinions on an issue at a speech to 800 Harvard students. It is clear and understood by many that Ms. Greenhouse definitely stated her opinion on that day. However, the fact that she continues to say that her remarks at Harvard were “statements of facts” shows the fuzzy boundary that exists between opinion and fact and objective versus subjective writing.

One of the most obvious, and I believe correct, reason that an unusually large number of journalists are killed when reporting a war is for what they represent. In his article “The Daniel Pearl Standard,” Judea Pearl explains that journalists “are no longer perceived as neutral, information-gathering agents, but rather as representing political or ideological entities.” Journalists tend to and are pressured in favoring “idealologies of those who pay their salaries” or inform them of vital sources of information. Most journalists are failing to complete their first and only task: educate the public of current events with facts.

Journalists, many times, do not represent objectivity and freedom but political entities, idealologies, groups of people, etc. The power and influence journalists have is being corrupted and taken advantage of to benefit a small handful. Nonetheless, it is very difficult to write a piece of literature that is completely objective. Thus, I believe that an impulse to “First, kill all the journalists” would do society some good.





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