Wanted, To Protect Democracy: Good Journalism

“God knows, journalism is a disaster right now, in terms of its ability to meet the moment with the crisis we’re facing. The American republic may not exist in a year.” So said a veteran journalist during a call I was on recently.

He may be right. It’s not a huge stretch to envision things going sharply south, no matter which way the election turns out. But much of the mainstream media are acting like a professional boxer in a street fight: wondering where the ref went, and why nobody’s obeying the rules.

It’s an extremely dangerous time. We’re seeing how thin the veneer of our civilization is, how so much of it rests not on financial and legal obligations to each other, but on ethical, moral and civic ones.

Let’s be clear: If we abandoned our legal and financial obligations to each other, but maintained our ethical, moral and civic obligations, our society would be fine. If we maintained our legal and financial obligations but abandoned our ethical, moral and civic obligations, our society would fall apart in short order.



Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of abandonment of our ethical, moral and civic obligations to each other lately -- which is why we need the media so badly.

There have been some standout moments -- moments in which a deep investigation or dogged determination has transformed the public’s knowledge or understanding of something profoundly important.

Almost two weeks ago, Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire of the New York Timesreleased Trump’s tax returns -- a story no doubt years in the making.

Last week, Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News broke the story that presidential advisor Hope Hicks had tested positive for COVID-19, ultimately forcing the President to admit that he had it. The Times’ Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman reported, “White House officials had hoped to keep the news about Ms. Hicks from becoming public, to no avail.”

There’s still a fair bit of confusion about when Trump was diagnosed, when his last negative test was, and when he knew. Did he know he was infected when he went to his Bedminster, New Jersey fundraiser on Thursday? What about when he debated Joe Biden on Tuesday? Was he already infected at Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination event the Saturday prior, or merely just one of many to fall prey to the superspreader event?

These are important questions, especially if you were at said fundraiser, or said debate, or said nomination event. The media are the best-placed people in the world to seek answers.

Yesterday, Facebook took down a bunch of fake troll accounts connected to Turning Point USA -- accounts which, according to The Verge, “focused on leaving coordinated Facebook comments -- including ones supporting President Donald Trump, criticizing rival Joe Biden, questioning mail-in voting, and supporting sport hunting in Kenya and Botswana.”

Facebook is a company that typically only does the right thing after extreme public pressure. In this case, it began its investigation after The Washington Postreported on Turning Point USA in September.

There are plenty of bright spots in the media. But we need everyone on their A game, recognizing that we’re not in the boxing ring anymore. We’re down a dark alley, at night, and anything goes.

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