Published on Friday, September 17, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
Journalism Under Fire
by Bill Moyers
Address to the Society of Professional Journalists
Saturday, September 11, 2004
New York City
"Our job remains essentially the same: to gather, weigh, organize, analyze, and present information people need to know in order to make sense of the world. You will hear it said this is not a professional task – John Carroll of the Los Angeles Times recently reminded us there are “no qualification tests, no boards to censure misconduct, no universally accepted set of standards.” Maybe so. But I think that what makes journalism a profession is the deep ethical imperative of which the public is aware only when we violate it – think Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, Jim Kelly. Ed Wasserman, once an editor himself and now teaching at Washington and Lee University, says that journalism “is an ethical practice because it tells people what matters and helps them determine what they should do about it.” So good newsrooms “are marinated in ethical conversations…What should this lead say? What I should I tell that source?” We practice this craft inside “concentric rings of duty and obligations: Obligations to sources, our colleagues, our bosses, our readers, our profession, and our community” – and we function under a system of values “in which we try to understand and reconcile strong competing claims.” Our obligation is to sift patiently and fairly through untidy realities, measure the claims of affected people, and present honestly the best available approximation of the truth – and this, says Ed Wasserman, is an ethical practice."
This is not the responsibility of the press alone, of course. It is the duty of the citizen. Ethics is the foundation of a democratic society, not God or the Bible or capitalism or "freedom" - ethics. The obligation to tell the truth and to not damage the warp and weft of reality for personal interest.
More on this later.