NBC newsman Brian Williams recently received the 26th Annual Cronkite Award from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
On Sunday, Nov. 21, The Arizona Republic commendably printed excerpts from Williams’ speech. After lamenting the “tonnage” of “narcissistic” news inundating the world, Williams made his case that “facts matter less” to journalism compared to opinions that seem to dominate the news business today. Well spoken Mr. Williams.
When a “facts matter less” mind set is organizationally embraced, that corporate media culture pressures everyone from managers to reporters to inject opinions, sensationalizing, and whatever else it takes to feed the new corporate culture. If and when this process occurs in the government sector, unfairness and ultimately corruption is sure to follow.
What Williams didn’t say, or wasn’t printed in the excerpts, was the second and third order consequences that occur in the media when “facts matter less” occurs. People are falsely attacked by innuendo, good government with good intentions is mocked, families of innocent victims suffer false hope and renewed grief based on opinions, and our communities are compromised.
Our founding fathers knew why the first amendment was critical to democracy. It is the backbone of fact finding and reporting, also known as the truth. Without it democracy is relegated to every other form of government. Facts must matter to the media to help ensure government is held accountable, that “the People” can be championed, and that the cherished fight for the checks and balances of democracy can be preserved.
If the media falls to “facts matter less,” “the People” may then turn to government for the facts. And if “the People” become more dependent on the government than the media for the facts, the first amendment will have failed to lift journalism, and ultimately democracy, to its rightful place.
Educating the public can help and, I think, cause the public to distinguish between what is mere opinion versus true journalism and actual news. Could this have been part of Williams’ message, that too many opinions are expressed disguised as legitimate news journalism?
Williams, one of media’s own and best, has now raised the bar by encapsulating the problem into three words, “facts matter less,” and launching it out for all to read. He even questioned whether Walter Cronkite himself would have achieved his status in today’s news media world given his personal journalistic ethic. Now it is up to Williams’ industry, the media business, to help right the ship and steer it into the future.
Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s program is doing its part to educate aspiring journalists. Frankly, almost all the journalists I have had the pleasure to work with subscribe to strong ethics and integrity. For this I have great hope for the future of American journalism.
Taking Williams at his word must cause us to reflect and react with a renewed commitment to the ethics and integrity needed in every walk of life. This will help ensure that America continues to be all it has been and all it can be to those young people coming up ever so quickly behind us into a cascading world of information, one that will hopefully be a place where facts matter more, not less.
Yes, thank you Brian Williams.
Andy Hill is a sergeant with the Phoenix Police Department’s media bureau. In the past he has also written movie reviews for the Ahwatukee Foothills News.