Opinion - Damning the Torpedoes: A Journalism Must
In 1972, five men were arrested for burglarizing the headquarters of the National Democratic Committee. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, a relatively new journalist at the time, was assigned to the seemingly unimportant story. However, after learning the identities of the five men, it became apparent that this “unimportant” story might have substance after all.
Carl Bernstein, a more seasoned reporter, soon teamed with Woodward. What followed was the uncovering of misappropriated campaign money, a million dollar slush fund used to slander Democratic presidential candidates, and the ultimate resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Woodward and Bernstein broke the Watergate scandal because they asked hardball questions and dug deep to get at the truth; they wore many hats, including playing detective. Most importantly, they wrote their articles without biased opinions.
These important tools are rarely used by the news media today. Reporters seem to have tossed aside the art of good journalism, succumbing to their employers’ biases and reporting one-sided opinions as facts. Moreover, most have given into the “ratings game,” feeding their viewers with over-hyped bunk. Sadly, they have forgotten that it is their role to inform people of the truth, and that the facts should never be corrupted by biased opinions, political agendas or personal gain.
I remember being about seven years old and asking my mother what was the difference between America and Russia. I presume I had asked her that question due to the events that were happening during that time: Watergate, the Vietnam War, and the widespread fear of Communism. Realizing my tender age, I imagine that my mother explained it to me as simply as she could. I really cannot say for certain, my memory fails me on the particulars of the explanation. But one thing that she said has always stuck in my mind. She said: “In Russia, you can’t believe what you read because they only print what they want you to know. In America, we print the truth.”
I often look back on that wonderful naiveté and wish for my mother’s vision of America. In her era, there was a huge difference between Russia and America. In Russia, the government owned the press; therefore, it controlled what was being reported. In America today, almost all the news media is owned by right-wing conservatives, and what goes to print is the owner’s viewpoint. It is a rarity to hear or read unbiased news reporting today. For two countries that once differed so greatly on its political fundamentals and freedoms, the line between a communist society and a capitalistic society now appears to be defined by who owns the press.
Sadly, we only have ourselves to blame. Society has allowed the media to compromise the truth in almost everything we hear or read—especially if it is a politically-motivated story. We lack the enthusiasm that our parents had for truth in journalism, and have traded Woodward and Bernstein for the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh.
Thankfully, there is still hope; and that hope lies within the realm of great journalism. There is nothing mightier than the power of the pen, or one who holds the truth in his or her hands. The Washington Post understood this when they printed the Watergate scandal amidst the Vietnam War. And we, as a nation, would fare much better if today’s journalists and the news media had a better understanding of how important it is to “Damn the Torpedoes” and print the damn truth.