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The Stakes of Journalistic Integrity

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“I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” While that is the oath people take before taking the stand at a trial, journalists take a very similar one when they decide to write.

As journalists, we are the public’s eyes and ears and our one loyalty lies to them. They, in a way, are vulnerable to us because we are their main source of information on their government, scandals, and unfair practices. In order for us to properly report, we have to have faith that the public will believe us.

As Walter Lippmann, a famous American reporter and writer said,“There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth”

However, when trust in journalists is lost by even one reporter, the entire concept of journalistic integrity is weakened. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2012, 60 percent of people do not trust the mainstream media.   

The reason people don’t trust journalists lies in incidents like the one Brian Williams, the face of NBC news, finds himself in recently.

Williams has concocted a story about how he was in a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq. He has recently come out apologizing for his fabrications, saying that he “made a mistake”, and has taken himself off the air while the company investigates his story.

While his apology barely sounded like a damage control speech written by his PR office, it was  not at all effective.

As soon as a journalist loses a bit of integrity, even if it’s just from one mischecked fact, their trustworthiness goes out the window.

The public can’t be expected to sit down and listen to news from a man who has been making up stories, or at least those that we know of, for the past three years.

Everything he has ever done, all of the great and ethical reporting, will be questioned. If he comes back onto the air, no one will be able to believe without a doubt that what he is saying is truthful.

Everyone should be able to make mistakes, but for journalists, these mistakes can’t be in their work. We can “forgive and forget” for as long as we want but until we hold journalists, even the famous ones on TV, accountable to any and every mistake, there can be no firm trust in any journalist.

If Brian Williams comes back to NBC, it will be a horrible mistake. Not only will he be disregarded as a real journalist, it will make people challenge the integrity of honest journalists everywhere.

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The Stakes of Journalistic Integrity