When I first saw the title, Stonewalled, by Sharyl Attkisson, I thought this was going to be just another reporter complaining about how difficult life in the world of journalism can be. After all, it’s tough all over and journalism is no different. Not only do they have to compete against the traditional broadcast news outlets, but also against cable news networks, and the plethora of blogs and other pseudo-news organisations.
Add to it the amount of risk each journalist takes every time they publish something of real substance and meaning. Not only has history shown us that being a true investigative journalist, in the most historic sense of the phrase, it is difficult and dangerous. It be dangerous for journalists who stand up and speak out, it is also dangerous for whistle blowers who know when they speak out their lives will be ruined, and quite possibly they are in danger.
In her book, Stonewalled, Sharyl Attkisson speaks plainly and honestly about what investigative journalism is, what news agencies have come to, and what it’s like to try to get blood from a turnip. That’s my analogy, not hers. Except she does get blood from a turnip. She does it with hard work, perseverance, and great with risk to herself.
It’s been a long time since I’ve believed a corporate journalist was worth any salt. It’s been even longer since I believed any news outlet was telling the whole truth. I stopped having any faith in the media long ago. It began to slip away when I noticed a disclaimer on a cable news channel saying their broadcast was “for entertainment purposes only”. It was two o’clock in the morning. From that moment on, I stopped caring what they said. The news is not for entertainment.
Sure, I understand the reasoning behind the cable channel’s disclaimer. It’s to prevent them from liability claims. They are not bound to the same rules as broadcast channels. The question keeps nagging, why don’t they want to held accountable for their words?
Wouldn’t you want to be known for speaking the truth at all times? Your reputation depends on your ability to speak the truth at all times. The public wants journalists who are known to have the best interest of the public at the center of their work. The public is tired of journalists and news outlets who merely say what they are told to say, or are willing to say nothing at all.
That’s the whole purpose behind the freedom of speech amendment. Without journalists who pour over and publish everything our government does, the protections of the rest of the constitution will be lost. Journalists represent the light shining in the dark. Ms. Attkisson speaks about how the government, at every turn, is trying to shut out that light.
Government wants to stop reporters from reporting. They know citizens can’t travel across the country to investigate for themselves. That’s way this country has valued investigative journalists from the beginnings of this country. We can’t let journalists be muzzled.
What can we do? For starters we can create new ways to ensure Freedom of Information Act requests are filled. Hold the government to a specific time window to fill requests. Limit redaction. Require digital copies of all documents to be uploaded to the public every day where every citizen may freely access them with anonymity. Require all documents that are declassified or that are eligible for FoIA request to be uploaded to the public servers. Do not allow the government to charge large fees to obtain information. Ten cents a page for copies should be sufficient. Currently, the Department of Justice is responsible for making sure FoIA is carried out. That’s the fox watching the hen house. Perhaps we should fine or jail individual people found responsible for failing to fill these requests in a timely manner. We need to define what a timely manner is and then require that it be followed. In the end, it still boils down to one thing only: The honesty and integrity of those people who are holders of information that belongs to the public.
I don’t want to give away too much about Stonewalled. These are just few ways her book got me to thinking. I can’t wait to hear how it made you think.