Why does it seem like Nicholas Kristof is the only person in the world who understands the true moral and civic responsibilities of journalists?
We in the news media seek various privileges – such as the right to protect confidential sources – and the corollary should be that we truly live up to our responsibility of informing the public. And that means not so much the responsibility to inform the public of Paris Hilton’s escapades, but rather of turmoil in Afghanistan, Congo and, yes, genocide in Darfur. Yet repeatedly we’ve dropped the ball. And we should be just as tough in holding ourselves accountable as in holding politicians accountable.
What initially aroused my ire was that CBS Evening News offered 3 minutes of coverage of Darfur in the course of all of 2004, while the three broadcast networks collectively offered 130 minutes that year about Martha Stewart. I was scolding the Bush administration for not doing more about Darfur, but I gradually realized that my own beloved profession was doing an even worse job than the White House.
The reason is simple: in tough times, network executives have found that it’s cheap and entertaining to throw a Republican and Democrat in a studio together and have them yell at each other. But that’s not news, it’s pugilism. It’s sports. And at our best, we in the news media don’t just stir up the pot, we add to it with real reporting that ordinary citizens can’t do themselves.
On the money, as always.