Sunday morning, government officials gathered in Des Moines to brief journalists about the storm that swamped the city and surrounding area with between 5 and 10 inches of rain Saturday night.
Among the reporters there was William Petroski, who has covered state government for the Des Moines Register for 37 years. Even on a weekend, a normal day off for him, Bill was wearing his uniform — a coat and tie.
The no-nonsense former Marine dresses the same way as he works: like a professional. Although I was his supervisor for years, I could not tell you whether he is a liberal, a conservative or a middle-of-the-roader.
Bill is like numerous reporters I know in that regard.
Party affiliation means nothing when he writes about government officials. His questions are equally tough, regardless of whether the officials are Democrats or Republicans. He doesn’t behave differently depending on who is in power and who is not.
As we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence 242 years ago, as we mourn the murders last week of five employees of the Annapolis, Md., Capital Gazette, four of them journalists, and as we think about the “fake news” accusations and slanderous “enemy of the American people” slurs that are hurled like stones at journalists, we should reflect on the important role they play in our United States and in protecting and preserving our democracy.
Think about how that life might be dramatically different were it not for the work of journalists — journalists who expose scandals, shine a light of understanding on society’s problems, tell us about heroes and heartwarming deeds, and provide us with ringside seats at the biggest events, good and bad, in our nation’s history.
Think about the work of journalists in putting the spotlight on equality for women, the mistreatment of blacks, the unfairness of segregated schools and public accommodations — and on the activities of a community’s local governments, schools, businesses, athletic teams, the courts, police and 4-H clubs.
Think about a Wisconsin senator’s wild, and false, accusations back in the 1950s that the U.S. military and the State Department contained nests of Communists and Communist sympathizers. Or the investigative digging by journalists into the break-in at the Democratic Party’s offices in the Watergate office building in Washington, D.C. Or the coverage of one president’s land dealings and investments back in Arkansas and his sexual shenanigans with a White House intern.
And keep all of this in mind as you think about journalists’ coverage of the multitude of questions that surround another president’s dealings, and the dealings of his businesses and campaign advisors, with officials in Russia.
From the time of the Declaration of Independence to today, the men and women who proudly call themselves journalists have dedicated their lives to keeping the public informed about what is occurring around them and across the nation. There’s an old but accurate saying that journalists comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
And last week, five of them lost their lives in pursuit of service to the reading public.
No one goes into journalism expecting to become wealthy. The goal of every journalist I have known has been the same — to gather the facts, report with insight and clarity and context, and to inform readers or viewers, regardless of the reaction that might come from government officials or news sources.
The journalists I have known have studiously avoided choosing sides in controversies. That has always been a badge of honor for them.
At the end of the day, all these journalists want is for the public to read their work, to respect what they do for their community and their nation, and to appreciate the long hours they devote to all of this.
So, don’t tell me that journalists are the enemy of the American people. Don’t tell me that what journalists do is fake news.
I’m not buying that.
by Randy Evans
Reprinted from Bloomfield Democrat