“Reliable Sources”: Why defending the press is essential to defending democracy

New York

For more than 30 years, Reliable Sources has covered the role the press plays in societies around the world. In the show’s final episode on Sunday, host and CNN Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter noted how journalists are now increasingly under attack – a disturbing trend that poses a real threat. for democracy.

And it’s a story every media organization needs to focus on, said veteran journalist and author Carl Bernstein, noting that « the pendulum is swinging against democracy everywhere. »

This is happening in Western Europe and the former communist countries to the east, Bernstein said, but there is also a sharp decline in democratic ideals at state and local levels around the world.

« The number of countries over the past 10 years that have moved from democracy to authoritarianism is growing rapidly, » Bernstein said. « We have to cover it, even if it’s not sexy. »

Jodie Ginsberg, chair of the Committee to Protect Journalists, stressed how vital a free press is to democracy. Over the past 20 years, this role has been threatened by increased political polarization and the spread of authoritarianism around the world.

“They are also increasing their verbal attacks on the press,” Ginsberg said of anti-democratic forces taking root around the world. « They discredit the press, because by discrediting the press it allows them to avoid scrutiny. »

Authoritarians know they have to convince people that the press is the enemy to stay in power, said The Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg.

« The important thing is not to be fooled, » he warned.

For democracy to continue to thrive, Goldberg said journalists must report the truth clearly and without fear, and better explain the role the industry plays to outsiders.

The framers of the US Constitution, « the main avatars of democracy 200 years ago, spoke of the indispensability of a free press, » Goldberg said. « And we need to educate people about the indispensability of what we do to make democracy work. »

But Stelter wondered if today’s media seizes the moment and shines enough light on current threats to democratic ideals.

Goldberg conceded that The Atlantic, along with many other outlets, has been « slow » to respond to sweeping changes in American political norms over the past six or seven years. He recalled how his publication was hesitant to use the word « racist » to describe Donald Trump’s inflammatory statements, instead using descriptors like « racist rhetoric. »

« Finally you realize, you know what, you have to speak clearly and you have to speak straight and call it what it is, » Goldberg said.

But even as the media catches up, the industry needs to be upfront about its true purpose.

« We have rendered ourselves defenseless because we assume everyone understands who we are, what we do, why we do it, and how we do it,” Goldberg said.

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans, when speaking about CNN’s future, noted that many viewers place a political lens on top of stories that are actually aimed at preserving democracy and holding politicians accountable.

« When you have a politician who denounces the press as the enemy of the people, when you have a politician who insists he won an election he didn’t, when you have a politician who blamed unfairly immigrants for the ills of America, you must have a journalism apparatus that is free to expose these excesses without fear of being accused of being unfair,” Deggans said.

He added that he hopes CNN will avoid creating a « false equivalence » comparing the state of the country’s two political parties. Deggans said he hoped not to see the « regular dysfunction » of one party offset by the extremism of the other.

« I’m also concerned that it’s hard to retain viewers if you’re just giving them facts, » Deggans said. “They need context. They need free and fearless exploration.

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