One of the most explosive issues in journalism in the 21st century occurred last month in the New York Times (NYT), one of the leading global newspapers. In an opinion piece in the NYT, Republican Senator, Tom Cotton supported President Trump’s contemplation of using the army to quell nation-wide protests that broke over the police killing of George Floyd.
NYT subsequently withdrew the column and explained it was in violation of what the paper stands for. In the United States one of the documents that guide American journalism is the Hutchins Commission report. The publisher of Time Magazine, Henry Luce, in 1942 asked Robert Hutchins, a philosopher and president of the University of Chicago to put together a team of American scholars to assess the direction of American journalism.
The Hutchins Commission in its report, “A Free and Responsible Press” published in 1946 stressed the context that journalism must operate in, given what had just occurred – fascism in Europe ended by a world war. In its report, it stressed context. Here is what the report asserted; “The preservation of democracy and perhaps of civilization may now depend upon a free and responsible press.”
It is important to note the word, “responsible.” More than 70 years after the Hutchins Commission, the United States is facing a social upheaval never seen before because American democratic values are threatened by a president whose character embodies autocratic instincts. It is in this context, the NYT rejected Cotton’s column.
Here is what the News Guide of New York consisting of America’s top journalists had to say in its condemnation of NYT publishing Cotton’s piece; “Its lack of context, inadequate vetting by editorial management, spread of misinformation, and the timing of its call to arms gravely undermine the work we do every day.” Readers need to note the use of the word, “context.” Based on what is taking place in the US, Cotton’s column was a dangerous departure in journalism.
Pulitzer Prize journalist of the Washington Post, Wesley Lowery, wrote the following in his agreement with NYT pulling the Cotton piece; “For years, I’ve been among a chorus of mainstream journalists who have called… for reporters to focus on being fair and telling the truth, as best as one can, based on the given context and available facts.” Again, I advise readers to bear in mind the word context as used by Lowery.
Let us apply context to what is taking place in Guyana. This country is going through a constitutional, political and social crisis never seen in the British West Indies. If society in Guyana accepts the rigged election of 2020, then fascism takes over and Guyana virtually dies. In this context, one should quote the words of the Hutchins Commission; “It is no longer enough to report the fact truthfully. It is now necessary to report the truth about the fact.”
The Kaieteur News has a quota of columnists that are defending the freedoms and liberties this country’s people are entitled to and rejecting the direction of fascism. I would appeal to media entities to be vigilant. Some columnists are operating in the “Cotton way”. One introduced race hate by a poor attempt to achieve relevance of the Black Lives Matter movement to Guyana by arguing that anti-Black racism in Guyana is similar to what obtains in the US.
Another columnist dishonestly hid support for rigged election by APNU+AFC by accusing friendly countries of treating Guyanese as colonial subjects when all they are doing is trying to save us from fascism.
It is not for me to lay down the operating principles for media houses, but I would strongly suggest they analyze the Cotton/NYT situation.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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