Journalists Aren't 'Fake News.' They're Patriots


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On October 16, journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered by a car bomb.

She led the research into the Panama Papers, which exposed tens of billions of dollars of stolen money, much of it stolen by dictators. More recently, her enterprising work helped to show how much of her native Malta's government was for sale. She did as much to drain the global swamp as anyone. Her work likely got her killed. She's a hero.

Jason Rezaian of The Washington Post spent more than 18 months in an Iranian prison on false espionage charges. His real crime? Seeking to help Americans understand one of America's most problematic foes. He sacrificed his freedom and his health for his country. He's a patriot.

Foreign reporters go to North Korea more than foreign diplomats — indeed, in such a closed and repressive regime, journalists are one of our few sources of good information on the country. Laura Ling, a journalist, spent months in a North Korean prison cell for helping us learn about that nation. We owe her tremendous gratitude.

Particularly on the right, “the media” has been demonized. Only 14 percent of Republicans trust the media. “The media” comes in for regular beatings in conservative news outlets. It's no wonder President Donald Trump feels comfortable attacking news outlets or even the concept of freedom of the press.

Such attacks, though, ignore the lives and work of actual journalists.

Journalists aren't some pack of wolves, motivated by greed or spite or partisanship, looking to destroy all things conservative. They are human beings. They make mistakes, but they are fundamentally committed to the honorable goal of holding the powerful accountable. They sacrifice tremendously in service to that ideal.

They are not “fake news” and do not deserve scorn. They are heroes worthy of our admiration.

Let's start with the obvious — journalism is not about greed, no matter how much the president wants to portray it that way. To be blunt, journalists aren't paid well — they make on average a little more than $40,000 a year despite often crushing student loan debt from journalism school. They work long hours. They have terrible job security. No one goes into journalism to become a millionaire.

Journalists don't drink champagne. Their drink of choice is stale coffee in a Styrofoam cup. That, or bourbon. Also in a Styrofoam cup.

And what of the line that journalists have a liberal agenda or are just politicians in cheaper suits? That's simply inaccurate. Politicians rarely admit when they're wrong or when they've said something that turned out not to be true.

Journalists, on the other hand, live in terror of being wrong. When they are wrong, there is an entire procedure for fixing the error. It's called issuing a correction, and virtually every respectable news outlet has that process in place.

And here is the most important reason journalists are worthy of our respect — they do tremendous good.

Without Upton Sinclair's work, we wouldn't have food safety. Without Life magazine's “Faces of the Fallen,” American soldiers dying in Vietnam would have remained statistics instead of human beings in the minds of most Americans. Without the work of intrepid Boston Globe reporters, priests would have continued horrific sexual abuse against children.

Most recently, without years of work by Jodi Kantor, Harvey Weinstein would still be free to be an alleged sexual predator.

Those are just the more blockbuster headlines. But the most important job journalists do is something we take for granted. They let us know what is happening in every remote corner of the world, no matter how dangerous.

We, as news consumers, assume we are going to see video of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico or photos of Raqqa immediately after its liberation from the Islamic State. It's a journalist who brought that knowledge to you, often at great risk.

“The media” makes for a convenient target. But the next time you want to blast “the media” or “fake news,” remember how much journalists have done to make your life better. Remember how much they've sacrificed so that you can understand the world.

Remember that journalists are people. People who do their duty, sacrifice, and sometimes pay the ultimate price. Treat them with respect.

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