With the inauguration of President Donald Trump, and throughout the almost two years of his tumultuous candidacy, the country has become less and less unified. Some of the feelings of distrust and apprehension come from the media’s portrayal of the Trump candidacy and the shaky start to the first 100 days of his administration, which beg the question: How will the press cover his presidency?
Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer bashed The New York Times’ coverage of a photograph depicting former President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration as packed and Trump’s inauguration sparse attendance in comparison. Spicer claimed floor coverings were used for the very first time even though there is photographical evidence tweeted out by CNN’s Jim Acosta, of Obama’s inauguration having the same service provided. At the press conference on Jan. 21, Spicer also commented that no one knew the attendance of the inauguration because the park services did not release that information, only to bring up minutes later that “Trump’s inauguration was the largest inauguration. Period!” witnessed both in person and at home.
Kellyanne Conway backed Spicer, claiming he was addressing “alternative facts” about the turn out of the inauguration. It seems Conway and Spicer are speaking in oxymorons and disguising the truth to benefit their agendas. In response, Merriam-Webster Dictionary tweeted the definition of fact as “something that has actual existence” or “a piece of information presented as having objective reality.” As NBC’s Chuck Wood points out, “anything else is a falsehood.”
Various headlines of The Washington Post and The New York Times have been topic for discussion on almost all cable news networks, social media and the internet from when Trump announced his candidacy to when he was sworn in. All of this information was delivered to literate Americans by journalists, because that is our job.
Ethical journalists report directly to the people, and have been doing so since the dawn of journalism in the United States. We are the fourth estate, we are the watchdogs, the whistle blowers, the guardians of the truth and the ones who keep the foundation of democracy stable and in check. The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics preamble states, “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.”
SPJ’s foundation of ethical journalism is cemented by four principles all ethical journalists must abide: Seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable and transparent. Without adhering to all of these four principles, journalists are not ethical and are subject to assault on their credibility.
The information that was communicated to the American people during this election cycle was not all truthful, and unethical journalists alone are to blame. But not every article the media put out was false or “fake news.” The whole profession should not be scrutinized because of the actions of unethical journalists, just as one bad president should not destroy the reputation of a great country.
There are undeniable truths about Trump and this election season: the documented footage of Trump mocking a disabled reporter and the Access Hollywood footage of Trump talking to Billy Bush about his conquests of women and how he can just, “grab her by the pussy,” to take control. These instances were documented on video and have been circulating around the internet millions of shares at a time. These are facts.
We must stay vigilant and defend our First Amendment right. We must hold the people in power accountable for their actions and words. Every time they say something false we must notice and call it out. We must hold unethical journalists accountable for their actions and words, and when they decide to spew “alternative facts,” we must act, analyze and critically think about where the news is coming from, who the author is, what the article’s agenda is and why that piece of news came to light.
For those who harbor distrust for the press, I admire your skepticism. All great scientists are always skeptics. It means that you are able to think for yourself instead of graze the deceitful grass being fed to you. But for the sake of the truth, do your research. At the bare minimum, trust The New York Times, trust The Washington Post, trust Associated Press and trust Reuters. Trust in outlets that have a spotless reputation that have been around for years. Trust outlets that spend time and money fact checking. Trust the journalists that are working for you and your benefit.
Whether you voted for Trump or not, these next four years are going to be different for everyone. The leader of the free world is inciting distrust and anger toward the fourth estate, insisting the masses trust everything he says. It is important in times like these to remember who is on your side, and who is fighting to make information more accessible to you.
Katie Murawski is a senior journalism major from Mooresville, North Carolina.