Letter from the Editor: We didn’t start the fire, we just write the news

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

By Bailey Brammer | Editor-in-Chief

When walking down the street in today’s society, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll overhear claims of “fake news” or blame being placed on the media for inaccurately reporting on a controversial topic.

While there are most certainly news organizations that publish click bait or false articles simply to drive their readership, there are still plenty of publications that employ hardworking, reliable writers that attempt to cover occurrences from all angles. Just because the subject of a story is debatable or calls out a public figure for something questionable does not mean that the entire news organization is to blame for reporting on it and doesn’t mean the story is untrue.

Similar to fields such as law or medicine, many journalists hold themselves to moral and ethical standards. The most common of these guidelines is the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which lists four principles that act as the rules for a credible journalist: seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable and transparent.

As a journalist, I see it as my responsibility to report only on what is truthful and accurate to the best of my ability. Although I am well aware that there is corruption in the press, there are also plenty of journalists who are being criticized for simply doing their job.

In February of this year, President Donald Trump called the press the “enemy of the people” on Twitter, and has made his thoughts on multiple news organizations abundantly clear. There are many other politicians and Americans that hold this same belief, viewing journalists as sleazy or liars, when this is inherently inaccurate.

When the press covers a topic that may be offensive or hurtful to some people, this does not mean that it should be labeled as “fake news.” For example, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Roy Moore, was recently accused of initiating sexual encounters with young women when he was in his 30’s, according to the Washington Post.

Moore claimed that these allegations were fake news and blamed the Washington Post, saying, “These allegations are completely false and are a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign,” and also adding that, “This garbage is the very definition of fake news.”

However, Moore’s accusations have no basis in fact; the Washington Post interviewed more than 30 people for its article, and has long been considered a reputable and reliable source for news. By placing the blame on the publication, Moore is saying that the newspaper is deliberately trying to sabotage his campaign, which is not the case.

Just because the Washington Post reported on something controversial and potentially harmful to a public figure’s reputation does not mean it earns the title of fake news. Because Moore is in the public eye, he is held to different standards than private citizens, and as a political candidate, he should be even more aware of the press’ role as the “fourth branch of government.”

News organizations are not responsible for “starting the fire.” The Post reporters did not wake up one morning and say to themselves, “How can we make a Republican candidate for Senate from Alabama mad today?” No, the Washington Post either received a tip or discovered that Moore had a questionable past, and pursued it to the fullest extent.

The journalists at the Post took it upon themselves to inform the American people of something that may change their opinions on someone in power; this is the same thing the New York Times does, the same thing the Wall Street Journal does and the same thing multiple local and national news organizations do every single day.

Again, although there are journalists that publish click bait instead of proven facts and give the rest of the press a bad name, the media also contains men and women who have found their passion in pursuing and sharing truth.

As a consumer of news, it is your job to be mindful of which publications can be trusted to provide you with accurate information, as well as which news organizations are only looking out for themselves. If you have trouble deciphering this, do some research on a publication’s history and ethics before labeling all journalists as corrupt and all news as fake. After all, we don’t start the fire, we just write about it.

Bailey Brammer is a sophomore journalism and history major from Phoenix.