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What a Journalist Is Supposed to Do

September 27th, 2008

Watch Jack Cafferty from CNN:

Note especially at the end how he contrasts with Wolf Blitzer. Cafferty calls the shot accurately: Palin’s answer was pathetic. He spoke the truth–baldly and clearly, he characterized exactly what we saw, and gave an accurate analysis of how this relates to her being McCain’s running mate. Blitzer, on the other hand, immediately–indeed, reflexively–began equivocating, making excuses and using euphemisms.

Why the difference? Well, part of it certainly is because Cafferty is a crusty old curmudgeon whereas Blitzer is somewhat of a putz. But I think more of it has to do with how journalists have been emasculated by politicians using access as a way to cow the media; Blitzer has to worry about his relationships with the campaigns, lest he lose access or not score the next big interview; Cafferty has no such worries.

This is more than just amusing (though you gotta love how Cafferty looks like he wants to slap Blitzer in the face there); this is actually an excellent contrast demonstrating an important quality now a rare commodity in journalism.

A journalist’s job is to report the truth, and if a politician is lying or failing, you don’t go all soft and fuzzy and say they are “playing with the truth a little” or “having a hard day.” When a politician is in the interview seat across from you and answers a question with a clear, easily provable lie, you do not enable that lie by nodding sagely and moving on, or even by pressing for details in the hopes of catching them up; you must simply look them in the eye and say, “that’s not true,” explain why if necessary, and then quiz them further on it.

The point is not to curry access, the point is not to score the big interview. Being a journalist is not a job just for show, nor is it a responsibility that can be casually regarded. Journalism is, after all, unless I am mistaken, the only profession outside of government service specified in the Bill of Rights and given specific notice as having protected rights.

There’s a reason for that: the press is the lifeline we depend on for clear transmission of vital information necessary to make the right choices in electing our public officials and maintaining our democracy. Politicians will of course try to game the system, but it is the job of the journalist to resist that. Most reporters, like Blitzer, have succumbed to that influence, and are worth than useless to the nation.

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  1. Brad
    September 28th, 2008 at 18:27 | #1

    Amazing. You’ve got to do me a favour, please, Luis, and guide us to an on-line copy of the vice-presidential debate if/when it’s available. I accidentally came across the last part of the presidential debate, but that was streaming (first time I’d watched a streaming video, I’m quite a naif with regard to some uses of the internet) and I’ll be at work when the vice-presidential one is taking place.

    It’s going to be like a train wreck, isn’t it? I hope the Democrat nominee doesn’t try to be a ‘gentleman’, but instead make it painfully clear how incompetent she is. Russian airplanes flying overhead does *not* grant one foreign affairs expertise! *snort*

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