Cold Truths: The WHCD Speech Every Journalist Needs to Hear
We are gathered here tonight in honor of the work of the people in this room. There are those here among us who have gone to great lengths to protect the constitutionally-given right of the freedom of the press and have used that right to better inform and educate our republic. They have researched, interviewed, recorded, and composed some of the most thoughtful and articulate articles that we have ever read and many of them have been recognized, both nationally and internationally, for their efforts. There are also those who may not have received such recognition but still are deserving of our praise for the often thankless work they do. Both groups are present here tonight and both deserve credit for the continued search for the truth in order to ensure that our democracy stays both vigilant and vibrant.
And yet, despite those who have been recognized, there now exists a large segment of those in the room tonight who have abdicated the most basic of journalistic principles. I'm not talking about those who have a clear partisan agenda. But rather, I'm talking about those whose sole purpose is to report the news fairly and accurately. After all, that is the goal of journalism: to provide fact-based reporting in a nonpartisan way and to allow the educated populace to process the reporting and reach their own conclusions. It has never been journalists' purpose to tell us what to think but rather to give us the information to allow us to learn how to think for ourselves. We aren't expected to understand why the murderer did what he did but rather to learn of what he did and when he did it. Anything above that gets beyond the realm of factually-based journalism to which we have become accustomed.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of people in the room tonight have failed in this fundamental responsibility. For the past three years, you and your parent organizations willingly chose to inject your own feelings into the work that you do. You did this with an intentionality that showed a pattern of abnormal and reckless behavior. Gone were the days of nonpartisan political coverage and what emerged was a business model where sloppy, biased reporting became the norm. Candidates were elevated and denigrated not because of their political views but because of just how popular they were. Those that were not popular were given undeserving platforms. Those that were popular were given unprecedented levels of scrutiny. Your political coverage became a way to ensure that the election would be a much-watch event. You created a world where you and you alone controlled the narrative.
In doing this, you spit on Edward R. Murrow's grave. You threw your organization's integrity out the window for quick hit pieces on certain candidates. Your research teams withheld damning information because it would hurt certain candidates. These same research teams took other information out of context to create a particular narrative against other candidates. You saw all this happen and yet not a single one of you thought it was wrong. Or, if you did, you chose not to say anything about it. Either way, you became complicit in your organization's journalism malpractice. Because of your negligence, the country suffered. People died. Yet, your organization continued to sell ads and generate ad revenue. You slept just fine at night while you simultaneously sold your soul for your organization. Never once did you consider the repercussions of your actions.
The past 16 months have been no better. Not only have you refused to acknowledge your mistakes, you've actually doubled down on them. You've gone out of your way to try and explain what happened using the same targeted group of participants. You've completely ignored those in the majority. The reason for this has been strategic: it has allowed you to create a false narrative while abdicating your own personal responsibility. It's why in the 16 months not a single one of you has admitted fault in your work over the past three years. To be a journalist is to have an ego. To refuse to acknowledge your own personal mistakes is an insult to journalistic standards everywhere. You may not have needed to retract a particular article but at the very least there needs to be some introspection about your role in what happened. Being unable to do that simple task has shown you have no remorse for what you have done.
Since you have no remorse, it's worth sharing what damage your actions have caused. Families have been shattered. Men, women, and children have been deported to foreign lands they hardly know. Tens of thousands have lost their health insurance. Thousands more have lost their jobs overseas. Soldiers have unnecessarily been killed and war widows have been made to suffer. Unarmed Black men and women have been murdered in cold blood. High school students have died and those that survived have been forced to grow up too fast. American Nazis have become empowered to walk, march, and rally in our city streets. Our countrymen in Puerto Rico have been abandoned. And our nation has ceased being the model for freedom and opportunity in the world.
One might say that it is unfair to blame you for all of the ills of the country. But it was through your actions that we are in the state that we are. For three years, you had a choice: to be a journalist or to be a willing stooge. You chose to be the stooge, to sacrifice your principles to ensure that your organization continued to be financially successful. You sold out, not simply for yourself but for your country. History will rightly look upon those in this room with shame and disgust because it was your work that enabled everything that has happened. You chose to proceed the way that you did. You personally might not have to live with the consequences but millions of your fellow countrymen and women now do so on a daily basis. They are the ones you chose to neglect, whether you realize it or not.
In the end, each and every person in this room failed. You failed me. You failed yourselves. You failed your country. And you failed your profession. The people whom you aspire to be would be sickened by your actions. Not just for what you did, but more importantly what you didn't do. For three years, you had a chance to stand up to tyranny, to fascism, to Nazism and you failed to do so. Your own cowardice is on you. It's easy to write about others; it's hard to write about yourselves. For those who see themselves as beacons of hope during a dangerous time, know that nobody outside this room sees you as such. Those outside this room see you as traitors who willingly sold out the country that they hold dear. Write what you want about yourselves but know that your true story will be written by others.
And their words will be bitter, brazen, and brutal.
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