Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Who Am I To Be Judge And Jury?

"'. . . Who am I to be judge and jury?  I don't think I'd have the right not to print it.'"  John Cotton, Reporter.  Character in The Fly On The Wall, Tony Hillerman, Harper Fiction, 1971.

We have evolved a long way in my lifetime.  In my youth, reporters were inclined not to tell the American public  --  the common man  --  the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  For instance, they committed sin of omission by not revealing the probable extramarital activities of past presidents.  Then there was the incident when a man hoping to be his party's presidential candidate got his campaign blown out of the water because his affair was revealed.  By the time a sitting president's extramarital affair was "outed",  the general public said, well, that's not nice, but it is the couple's business.  And what does it have to do with his ability to lead the country anyway even if it is a little tacky?

This situation is just the surface of a reporter's dilemma when researching and writing an article.  They used to believe it was their job to determine what the American public could and should be able to handle.  Fortunately, most of them now understand it is their job to report the facts and the truth as it becomes visible, whatever their personal preferences.  It is also their job to trust their readers (at least most of them) to be able to decide the relevance and importance of these facts.

In the novel mentioned above, the reporter's life was being threatened over a story he was writing.  Two men had already died over it and John Cotton was being threatened openly.

A group of people were committing fraud with taxpayer funds in order to line their own pockets. Exposure of the people would mean their careers and families would be ruined.  It would also ruin the political life of the governor because it happened on his watch and he wanted to run for Congress.

But didn't the perpetrator's of the crime realize they might get caught?  Why did they not worry about the shame to their families before they did the deed?  Is it a reporter's job to care take the families of the criminals?

Part of the dilemma was that the governor truly did not participate in the crime.  Also, he was, by even the reporter's judgment, the best candidate for the job.  So, the country might lose the best candidate because of the crimes of others.

This is not unlike what we have going on right now.  The IRS has messed up.  It is hard not to LOL that we get to see them in the hot seat for a change.  The Veteran's Administration has messed up big time.  The immigration issue has just about exploded in our faces.  And the current Administration is being blamed, kind of like the governor in the fiction described here.

And, of course, the other party is exploiting every flaw, hoping it brings the Senate and the presidency back to them.  And it may, at that.  But it is still the reporter's job to present the facts, the truths and to trust the American public to discern the best candidates for the jobs, whoever they might be.  It is the job of the citizens to separate the wheat from the chaff and vote the best choice available.  I think we usually do that rather well.

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