by Kory Swanson
If I were teaching a course on ethics and journalism, I would make the Wall Street Journal Editor Gerard Baker’s opinion piece, Trump, ‘Lies’ and Honest Journalism, the center of classroom discussion.
Baker addresses the issue of whether a journalist should use the word “liar” when confronted with what seem to be wildly obvious “untruths.” To call someone a “liar” is to make a moral judgment–knowing the person’s state of knowledge and his moral intent. In other words, the reporter is presenting himself as omniscient. Presenting yourself as omniscient has consequences for your credibility as well as for the news organization you work for. As Baker notes:
“To refrain from labeling leaders’ statements as lies is to support an unrelenting, but not omniscient press one that trusts readers’ judgments rather than presenting judgments to them. If we routinely make these kinds of judgments, readers would start to see our inevitably selective use of moral censure as partisanship. We must not only be objective. We must be seen to be objective to continue to earn our readers’ trust…..I’m content for the most part to leave the judgment about motive–and mendacity–to our readers, who are more than capable of making up their own minds about what constitutes a lie.”
As the publisher of Carolina Journal, I am proud to say that “honest journalism” is the Carolina Journal way.