Washington, DC - In 1964 I was a young reporter at the American Forces Network headquarters news desk in Frankfurt, West Germany. My editor -- a crusty, chain smoker who routinely tossed copy back at me and said just two words, “fix it,” – had assigned me to cover the controversial Johnson- Goldwater presidential election campaign. “Fix it,” he said tossing my first story back to me. He’d done a word count and was concerned that I had devoted 10 or 15 extra words to Mr. Goldwater. He saw it as bias. I learned my lesson.
It was a lesson about integrity. Without that quality journalists become irrelevant. They become partisan hacks. They become hit men for personal causes. More important, they erode the confidence the public had in them and in all news reporters. It’s their job to provide the facts; it is the readers’ prerogative to interpret those facts. We don’t need the spin of a biased newsman.
The majority of journalists and their editors still adhere to the rules and most publishers offer swift justice in the form of pink slips for those who stray. But, it seems that these days it has become difficult, at best, to know when a report in a newspaper or on TV is actually news or a personal opinion.
It’s bad enough that anyone with a computer, a basic knowledge of grammar and a vivid imagination can be a reporter these days by posting their so-called news stories on the Internet. These new age town criers have no rules; they are free to twist and turn their so-called coverage of an event or personality to suit their personal agendas. But when mainstream reporters do it, we all lose. We lose confidence in the purpose and accuracy of the stories we read in the morning paper and those we watch on the evening news.
Doctor of Psychology Seth Meyers, writing in the journal Psychology Today, says, “an individual with integrity is the antidote to self-interest.”
The late Dr. Charles Krauthammer was such an individual. In his Washington Post obituary Jacob Heilbrunn, editor of the National Interest, a publication focused on American interests, is quoted as saying: “Krauthammer wasn’t simply a reflexive, unthinking conservative who was peddling the party line. He had real discernment and independence. At bottom, he was an intellectual, not just a journalist, with real literary flair and style and insight.”
Before he died, Krauthammer, who was a columnist for the Post, wrote what was to be his last column for the newspaper. It was an Opinion article in which he discussed his ill health and impending death. His words are the very essence of what it means to be a journalist with integrity:
“I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.”
News reporters are bound by a code of ethics. They stick to the facts. They do not take advantage of the stories they are covering to promote a personal agenda. The integrity principle is taken seriously and, if they stray, there are editors who strictly enforce the code. Editorials are for the editorial pages.