John Giles: Restoring ethics in journalism

first amendment
first amendment

One of the titanium pillars of our constitution that has clearly distinguished us from other free societies is our First Amendment. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” There is so much we can unpack from this one amendment, but let’s see if we as a nation are still on course as prescribed for this free speech component.

There used to be a sacred line drawn in media between journalism-news and opinion-editorials. Today it is rare to not only see these lines substantially blurred, but to the contrary, these lines have merged. The news department, which is basically journalism, refers to the production and distribution of reports on recent events. Editorials and opinion sections are generally just that, an opinion piece written by or on behalf of an editor that gives an opinion on a topical issue. Has the merging of these two components within media outlets been well received by the public, let’s take a look.

If a business loses sight of their customer, before long there is no business. The public’s confidence in the media has plummeted into a nose dive. According to Gallup/Knight Foundation Survey, 80% of Americans believe that the news media plays an important role in our democracy. However, 68% in this survey says most news media outlets DO NOT excel in separating fact from opinion, verses in 1984 it was 42%. In this survey, Democrats largely trust the media and Republicans do not.

Liberals are smarter than conservatives. Liberals intentionally inject themselves into academia, media, arts and Hollywood. An excerpt from a poem penned by William Ross states, “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Is the Hand That Rules the World.” It is true, shape the minds of young people and you shape a nation. Liberals know this and today’s thought process of millennials is evident from the rapidly growing love affair with socialism. Polling data suggest that 8o% plus of all media vote Democrat.

During my decade at the Christian Coalition of Alabama, we had our share of media attention. On a few occasions, I had news reporters, who would interview me on a topic and print whatever they wanted in terms of my quote. It was my practice to gently handle these folks and get a clear understanding; you can come to me anytime, just quote me verbatim. One time a new reporter with the Selma Times interviewed me and what she printed was miles off course from what I stated. I saw her the next morning at the statehouse and said she was “summarizing.” That never happened again with her. I had another reporter from the Montgomery Advertiser that did this as well, and when corrected, we became friends and I was his go to point man on all public policy family issues.

We had several editorial boards in the state write perpetual cynical opinions about us, which is fine, but when they began to espouse our position on as issue without talking to us or even looking at our website, it was very upsetting. Unless you experience it first hand, take my word for it, if you are a Christian Conservative, some members of the media just seethe at seeing your name tag. I remember making a trip to the Birmingham News and Anniston Star when they got on a rampage of summarizing our position without even talking to us. My mode of operation was to go meet with the entire editorial board and plead with them in a stern, yet gentlemanly manner, to at least pick up the phone and get our reasoning on an issue, rather than just inking in their seamless flow of poison. I can recall one gentleman at the Anniston Star and one at the Birmingham News sitting next to me in these meetings, contorting and twisting in their chairs. Their faces were blushing red with anger and their obvious immeasurable distaste of my presence in the same room with them. Bottom line, if you are an economic, social, moral and constitutional conservative, most liberal members of the media have it out for you.

I can recall just a few years ago, if we called a press conference, we made sure we had documentation and named sources before a story was written. Not anymore, there are journalist today ignoring the code of ethics of yesterday and will print an untrue story with un-named sources. One day on the 7th floor of the Alabama Senate, two Democrat Senators were taking in the hall and drug me into their discussion. One began to talk real loud in a crowded hall so the echo chambers would rattle all day of their staged floor show. I cannot remember to this day what he claimed, but I asked him on the spot, Senator, where in the world did you hear that outrageous fable? He said to me, “I just said it and I heard myself say it, so that is where I heard it.” Can you believe that, my response to him was in a semi-laughing manner, “so that is the way it works up here?”

When I was growing up, Walter Cronkite Jr. served as anchorman for the CBS Evening News for 19 years. In the 1960s and 1970s, he was often cited as “the most trusted man in America” after being so named in an opinion poll. My family was very conservative and we felt the same way about Mr. Cronkite. I remember to this day when he removed his glasses on live television and told us, our President, John F. Kennedy had died in Dallas, Texas. In retirement, he began to speak out on various issues, it was only then; we realized he was a very liberal person. During his tenure at CBS, he managed to always report the news and the facts behind a story and gained national confidence without injecting his personal opinion in the story.

To members of the media, you have a sacred opportunity to set yourself apart from the norm and became a stellar journalist and fulfill the scope of free speech embodied in the First Amendment. When doing a news story, get all of the facts; report those facts, without injecting false notions, hype, fear mongering and propaganda. If there are two sides, equally let both sides respond. Let’s return the wall of separation between news and editorials.

Let’s Make The American Media Great Again, become a modern day Walter Cronkite.

John W. Giles is former President of the Christian Coalition of Alabama. He served as Small Business Advocate for the State of Alabama during Governor Guy Hunt’s Administration. He was also a member of Governor Fob James Cabinet.