Truth or Loyalty in Journalism – There is No Choice

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Lori Sokol, Executive Director

From the Executive Director

A few weeks ago I was asked if I thought it was ‘more important to report the truth as a journalist, or more important to report on what’s right for our country.’ I fell silent for a moment, not understanding why this should be an either/or choice. After responding that I believe ‘the truth is always right for our country,’ he defiantly disagreed, instead asserting that what’s ‘right for our country’ should always take precedence over the truth. Essentially, propaganda should usurp honesty in journalism.

I disagree.

George Orwell. the author of Nineteen Eighty-four, a novel that examines the dangers of totalitarian rule, was famously quoted as saying, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”  And that is why Women’s eNews is joining hundreds of other news outlets today in publishing commentary about the crucial importance of maintaining truth in journalism. Clearly, Donald Trump, who continually and wholeheartedly labels journalists the ‘enemy of the people,’ must also believe that propaganda, or yellow journalism, or any number of the other labels placed on false but loyal journalism preempts transparency and truth.

It should not.

One only needs to read a little about the history of journalism, and its effects on a country’s citizens, to understand the danger in believing news that’s meant to be loyal to its country, rather than loyal to its level of honesty. Propaganda is defined as information that is not impartial and used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information presented.

And purporting propaganda is as old as British colonialism, when Indian sepoys rebelled against the British East India Company’s rule of India in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Incidents of rape committed by Indian rebels against English women and girls were exaggerated by the British media to justify continued British colonialism in the Indian subcontinent. It was later found that some of these accounts were false stories created to perpetuate the common stereotypes of the native people of India as savages who need to be civilized by British colonialists. A half century later, during the First World War, the first large-scale and organized government propaganda machine was devised during the war in 1914. In the war’s initial stages, the output of propaganda was greatly increased by the British and German governments to serve the justness of their cause, encouraging voluntary recruitment while demonizing the enemy.

But perhaps the most infamous use of propaganda occurred during Nazi Germany, when most propaganda in Germany was produced by the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and PropagandaJoseph Goebbels was placed in charge soon after Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, making it a requirement for all journalists and writers to register with one of the Ministry’s subordinate chambers for the press. This forced broadcasters and journalists to be granted prior approval before their works could be disseminated.  The Third Reich then established a Ministry of Propaganda, in order to establish external enemies and internal enemies, such as JewsRomanihomosexualsBolsheviks and topics like degenerate art. In 1939, just before the beginning of World War II, German newspapers and leaders had carried out a national and international propaganda campaign accusing Polish authorities of organizing violent ethnic cleansing of ethnic Germans living in Poland, to justify its planned invasion of Poland. Soon after, Adolf Hitler told his generals: “I will provide a propagandistic casus belli. Its credibility doesn’t matter. The victor will not be asked whether he told the truth.”

So, make no mistake. Trump is following in the footsteps of former tyrannical leaders, placing loyalty to his subjective vision for the country above all else, even the truth.

As Winston Churchill said,  “A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other man that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny. Where men have the habit of liberty the Press will continue to be the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen.”

Women’s eNews is proud to stand alongside every other news service that continues to serve as guardians for citizens’ eternal right to the truth.

In solidarity,

 

Lori Sokol, PhD

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