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Accuracy, honesty of reporting are now suspect

DISCUSSIONS | May 25, 2006

Peter A. Jay

1973 Nieman fellow; former Washington Post reporter, Baltimore Sun columnist, and small town publisher; now a farmer in Maryland

I now practice agriculture instead of journalism. These are in some respects related professions, but my current craft has no special Constitutional protections. For example, the State of Maryland requires me to obtain a license before spreading manure.

In my view the political partisanship of the press, especially but not exclusively the big national press, has become so extreme as to throw doubt on the accuracy, as well as the honesty, of much reporting. This is not so much a matter of liberal journalists attacking conservative politicians, although that is especially pronounced at the moment. It's more serious than that. I have the strong sense, shared by many others of my acquaintance, that in its ideological fervor the press has tossed away its patrimony.

I used to believe, and I think polls show that most Americans also believed, that the press in general, and reporters and editors as individuals, were interested above all in the truth. If that's still the case, it is no longer apparent. Polls of course show this, and in so doing they reflect what journalism consumers constantly observe.

Stories are too often written not to enlighten, but to make political points. This is obvious in their placement in the newspapers, in their sourcing, in the language used, and in the comments made by supposedly non-partisan journalists when they let their hair down – which  often happens on TV. My wife and I, with something like 50 years of work in journalism between us, are happy that both our kids have found other lines of work.

It's not a happy state of affairs, the mess in the press, and it has helped make us into a more suspicious and divided country. I guess it'll pass eventually, but it'll take a couple of generations to rebuild the sort of trust that professional news people once enjoyed.    

This item is one of several responses to a survey of former Nieman fellows. Click here to see the main story.

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