Just Do Our Job

When I tell friends that I’m not watching MSNBC or CNN these days, they assume I’m protecting my fragile hold on hope and faith in the future.  They aren’t entirely wrong, but my aversion to televised news goes deeper than that.

I felt so stupid on the after-morning when it was abundantly clear that my liberal convictions, beliefs I assumed were unassailable, grounded as they are in the tradition of rationality and compassion begun in the Enlightenment, were not shared by those in a majority of American states.  I had to reconsider the most basic principles.  Surely modernity had delivered scientific certainties and endorsed the celebration of a diversity of people.  Surely we had moved beyond racial politics.  Anti-Semitism?  Where did that come from?

And those polls.  And those commentators.

Apparently, thoughtful, articulate, experienced political pundits can be entirely hornswoggled by their own bias.  I don’t blame them for the outcome of the campaign, although I do wonder what the Republican primary might have looked like if the President-elect had not taken up so much air time.

I subscribe to the Washington Post and read their national and international news daily.   The district and surrounding counties have their own parochial interests, of course, but the Post seems to balance that with its responsibility as the paper of record in the capital and its interest in publishing a fairly wide range of commentary.  It happens that the Post’s editor, Marty Barron was the judicious voice of integrity at the Boston Globe, during the Searchlight team’s investigation of the widespread abuse of children by priests and the involvement of Cardinal Bernard Law in the reassignment of those priests to parishes unaware of the priests’ crimes.

Marty Barron is an unassuming guy, hardly a celebrity journalist, a tough character for Liv Schriever to play in the film version of the Spotlight team’s battle to get at the truth.

He’s not a character; he has character, as is revealed in the remarks he offered upon being awarded the Hitchens Prize in recognition of his long career as a journalist dedicated to the pursuit of the truth and the protection of free expression.  His remarks have been seen as a guide to responsible journalism in the Trump era, noting the degree to which candidate Trump excoriated reporters and the contempt with which some of his advisors feel for the mainstream press.

With customary humility, Barron described himself as an unlikely recipient of an award named in honor of investigative journalist and writer, Christopher Hitchens, but in recalling Hitchens’ reporting of the fatwah issues against Salmon Rushdie, the editor reaffirmed the importance of sticking to first principles and values.

Many journalists wonder with considerable weariness what it is going to be like for us during the next four—perhaps eight—years. Will we be incessantly harassed and vilified? Will the new administration seize on opportunities to try intimidating us? Will we face obstruction at every turn?

If so, what do we do?

The answer, I believe, is pretty simple. Just do our job. Do it as it’s supposed to be done.

Every day as I walk into our newsroom, I confront a wall that articulates a set of principles that were established in 1933 by a new owner for The Post, Eugene Meyer, whose family went on to publish The Post for 80 years.

The principles begin like this: “The first mission of a newspaper is to tell the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained.”

The public expects that of us.

If we fail to pursue the truth and to tell it unflinchingly—because we’re fearful that we’ll be unpopular, or because powerful interests (including the White House and the Congress) will assail us, or because we worry about financial repercussions to advertising or subscriptions—the public will not forgive us.

Nor, in my view, should they.

I’m collecting expressions of purpose that strike me as sustaining.  Marty Barron, an editor not given to hyperbole, put it simply.

“Just do our job.  Do it as it’s supposed to be done.”

Tell the truth.  Stand up for those who need help.  Offer kindness as often as we can.  It’s our job to stick to the important principles that were not endorsed.

Just do that job.  Do it the way it’s supposed to be done.

A full account of Barron’s remarks have been published in Vanity Fair, the magazine for which Christopher Hitchens reported.

 

 

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