A recent Gallup Poll concluded that the general public views newspaper reporters to be more fraudulent and unethical than nursing home operators, bankers, mechanics and even elected officials. In a $1 million study by the University of Connecticut, 50 percent of high school students said government officials should be able to regulate articles written in newspapers. While 99 percent of school principals feel people in the media should be allowed to express unpopular views, only a sad 83 percent of students concurred.
If I understand correctly, statistics like these mean that children of this generation disregard the First Amendment like toilet paper. They are unaware that it is because of this right that people are still allowed freedom of speech and autonomous thought, despite the efforts of pop stars and government officials who incessantly jam messages into our ears.
Apparently, this is because nobody trusts the media anymore, and sadly I find myself unable to defend the profession when I hear about people like Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and Mike McManus. For those of you who have yet to hear, these reporters were paid, on separate occasions, to promote programs of the Bush administration via their respective media resources.
The Department of Education recently paid Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. Williams, a columnist for USA Today, did just that while also spreading propaganda on television and radio shows.
Mike McManus, a syndicated conservative editorialist whose weekly column appears in about 30 newspapers, was paid $10,000 by the Bush administration to train counselors to promote marriage. Some say this was in part an effort to rebuke same-sex marriages. Maggie Gallagher, also a columnist, was paid $21,500 by Health and Human Services to promote similar ideas.
Now, let’s take a guess as to where the government is getting this dirty money from. If you guessed taxpayers, go ahead and give yourself a confirming pat on the back. I’ve always assumed that some of our tax money goes toward advertising or campaigning, but it sickens me to know that it is used unfairly to promote controversial agendas.
According to CBSNews.com, “the administration spent a record $88 million on government-funded public relations contracts in 2004.” To this, Bush responded, “All our Cabinet secretaries must realize that we will not be paying commentators to advance our agenda. Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet.” That being said, he probably just shrugged his shoulders, smiled to himself and laughed a villainy laugh that would make Dr. Evil proud. But I digress, for the relevant topic at hand concerns the importance of journalistic ethics.
It’s one thing if people are openly paid to promote ideas. Celebrities do this for a living, only it’s understood that they are being compensated. However, when these three journalists covertly accepted money to promote Bush’s agenda, they had the intention of misleading the public into thinking they advocated Bush’s plans based on pure faith and reason. It’s because of journalists like these that newspapers get a bad reputation.
My first reaction to these incidents was disgust, anger and embarrassment, but after thorough deliberation I am now mostly overcome by the feeling of fear. I fear that these journalists, and others who shill for programs, will only deepen the distrust American people already feel toward journalists.
I fear that as a result of growing up discouraged by this type of deception, the 50,000 high school students recently surveyed, who actually want the government to pre-approve articles before they are published, will be the people who will also allow the government to take away freedom of the press. I fear people will soon forget that journalism is often the balancing force needed to keep people informed and in check. And the sooner we forget this, the sooner we will be taken back to the year 1984, Orwell style.
Eva Liao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.