CWA S-T Steffens Lauds Award Winners, Warns of Threats to Journalism

There has never been a more important time to celebrate and lift up journalism. Lately I’ve been hearing a very chilling notion: that we are entering a “post-truth era.”

Why a post-truth era? We have a president who is prone to taking to Twitter to broadcast plain lies, such as his recent outrageous claim that states permitted millions of people to vote illegally.

Trump openly berates, threatens and mocks journalists and shows zero understanding of the role of the press or even the First Amendment in our American democracy.

He regularly tweets insults aimed at damaging major newspapers and networks that produce coverage he doesn’t favor.

Trump has expressed an interest in changing libel laws to make it easier for elected officials, including himself, to sue for portrayals they don’t like. His campaign denied press passes to journalists and publications whose reporting hit too close to home.

And following the election, he literally called in a group of TV journalists to Trump Tower for a meeting that turned out to be a scolding for their coverage of his campaign.

Worse, we live in an era where a sizeable amount of the information some Americans get about politics and government comes from links posted to social media sites, many of them actually “fake news.” (Although as my college journalism advisor reminded me, we shouldn’t use the term fake news for it gives undue dignity to what’s better known as “propaganda and lies.”)

We need the work of outstanding journalists like the ones we are honoring here today.

In these grim times, America needs our free press more than ever.

We need the work of outstanding journalists like the ones we are honoring here today, to remind us that we are not a nation built on prejudice and falsehoods, but on the best ideals of protecting the rights of individual citizens and holding our leaders accountable to the people.

Our country’s vibrancy and health depends on these reporters and the newsrooms that employ them,

  • To tell the stories of vulnerable citizens and show us the systemic and institutional racism that underlie the movement for Black Lives Matter.
  • To expose the renewed role of slavery and trafficking in our global economy.
  • and to warn society of the dangers of outsourcing core government services to for-profit corporations that put the bottom line ahead of the public good.

As an optimist, and a proud American, I have faith that our nation’s time-worn system of checks and balances will do its job, if we allow it to. Journalism is central and absolutely critical to that process.

If we are in danger of entering a “post-truth era,” then it is more important than ever to support the work of the reporters who every day hold up a mirror to our society, who introduce us to our fellow citizens, hold our leaders and corporations accountable and remind us of our core values as Americans.

As journalists hunker down for the battles ahead, we can support them in a real and tangible way by subscribing to our local newspapers — even if they are smaller and suffering from budget cuts, and, yes, even when they run editorials that infuriate us or headlines that obviously fall short.

Newspapers aren’t perfect, broadcast news isn’t perfect, but we must subscribe and read them and watch them because these shared stories, online or in print, help us to better understand the lives and challenges of our fellow Americans. And only when truth is made public can the powerful be held accountable.

If we are to truly make America great again, it will not be by returning to some vague and romanticized era of 20 or 50 years ago, but to the true roots of our nation: the truths we hold to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, with inalienable rights and the right to pursue happiness. And the understanding that our freedom begins with our right to petition our government for a redress of grievances, our right to peaceably assemble and to speak freely; and by supporting and fighting for our nation’s free press.