IN DEFENSE OF
A NOBLE PROFESSION
The President of the United States, who is known as the leader
of the free world, said the media are "the enemy of the people."
It's hard to believe anyone could be so wrong.
This column is for my father, who died 17 years ago. As many
readers know, he was a Chronicle columnist for almost 40 years. But before
he became a columnist, he was a reporter, and he identified as one to his
last dying day.
I can only imagine how offended he would have been by the
President's remarks about fake news and the "dishonest" and
"unfair" and "lying" media. I can only imagine how sad
it would have made him to see the profession he chose, and loved, to be
dragged through the mud.
He would be appalled that the President would attack the
credibility of his colleagues. He might understand an attack on columnists,
or editorial writers, but not reporters. The news is sacred. And so vitally
Fake news? Clearly, it's a ploy of the President to discredit
stories that are unfavorable to him, both in the past and the future. He is
belittling the profession of journalism, and the historically noble concept
of a free press, in an attempt to mask his deficiencies and cement his
position as the leader of a not-so-free world.
On behalf of my father and all the wonderful and ethical people
he worked with in his 55 years in journalism, as well as the thousands of
dedicated, ethical people who report the news to us today, I can only say
one thing---Don't fall for it.
Only three entities can keep any President in check---Congress,
the judiciary and the press. With Congress behind him, our current President
is going after the other two, trying to delegitimize their power. This can't
happen. A free press is essential to a democracy. That's why it's often
referred to as the fourth estate. And that's why my father was so proud to
call it his profession.
I'm not a journalist, so I have no self-interest in being its
defender. I sold out long ago and went into business, and I have no regrets.
But I grew up thinking I would be a reporter, like my father, and looked
forward to working in a profession that included Walter Cronkite, "the
most trusted man in the world."
My father and his colleagues worked hard, played hard, drank
hard and chased stories. They didn't make a lot of money, but that wasn't
important. They reported the "news that was fit to print" and
their integrity was never in question.
Nothing has changed, except a new generation and a lot more
cynicism. Reporters still don't make much money, and I, for one, never doubt
their integrity. The idea that a reporter or editor would fabricate fake
news is utterly preposterous. They would be drummed out of this noble
profession immediately. Nor would they ignore a story. Not cover a terrorist
attack in Europe? Tell me you're kidding.
Are they biased? Of course they're biased. Everyone is biased.
My father was biased. But he reported what he saw. In one of his more
celebrated pieces, he witnessed and wrote about an execution in the gas
chamber at San Quentin. He was an ardent opponent of capital punishment, but
he never said so in the story. He didn't have to. He just described the
scene, and let the reader draw their own conclusions.
The President won't like the stories from current reporters
about immigrant mothers or fathers being deported and separated from their
crying children. He won't like the stories about his latest poll numbers, or
his possible ties with Russia, or his business conflicts of interest. He
won't like anything that doesn't put him on a pedestal.
He doesn't have to like the negative stories, but he has to
accept the facts that are reported by hardworking, ethical journalists. Of
course, he never will, and that is terrifying. By discrediting the media, he
is discrediting a vital element in the checks and balances of our democracy.
And setting the stage for something none of us want to imagine.
Many readers fondly remember my father's column, which was
satirically funny in nature. All of us wonder what fun he would have had
satirizing our current President. But I doubt he would have found much humor
in labeling the media "the enemy of the people." It's too close to
home, and too serious. And as I said, too terrifying.