Patriotic journalists. Now more than ever we need to fulfill our roles not only as journalists, but also as patriots. Patriots love, support and defend the interests of their country. To many, that means that we as journalists should wave the flag, rally the public and offer unquestioning support of our leaders. That is the easy path, the popular path and, of course, the wrong path. In the hours and days immediately following the terror attacks, our television screens, newspapers and Web sites were filled with red, white and blue colors. Electronic flags waved, full page cutout flags were printed and flags suitable for downloading popped up all over the place. Even the NBC Peacock gave up its technicolor palette for a new red, white and blue color scheme. It’s all perfectly understandable, and, to the extent that we were mirroring the sentiments of the nation, it probably was fine. But now we’ve entered this era of a strange new war. These are dangerous times indeed. Our troops are spread across the globe. Some are stationed in countries where they are not entirely welcome. The enemy deeply desires a holy war and missteps on our part could eventually produce one. All of our national landmarks, all of our transportation systems and all of our industrial infrastructure are considered potential targets. Lawmakers on the federal, state and local level are striving to take action to make us more secure, but at what expense to our civil liberties? Some fear we will freely give away what the terrorists could not take. It is at just such a time as this that journalists need to assert their independent role. Rather than rallying the public, we should be informing them. Yes, we will be the conduits for the president and military briefings, but we also need to be questioning their assertions and seeking independent confirmation of the facts. It is through this type of work that we express the love of our country, support its democratic institutions and defend its interests. Our patriotic duty is to fully and correctly inform our citizenry without fear or favor. We should do no less.
Gary Hill is chair of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and the director of investigations for KSTP-TV in Minneapolis. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.