"Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Published on December 29th, 2010

This past week marked the end of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding gays in the United States military.  However you could say that for the news media “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” characterizes how all too many journalists and the various news organizations deal with immigration. Furthermore it would seem that there is no end to this approach in journalism on the horizon. Our nation’s Founding Fathers understood full well the importance of an informed citizenry.  The clearest evidence of this can be found in considering the First Amendment which 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.” By being free to exercise free speech and meet peaceably, the citizens of our nation were empowered to exchange ideas and information.  Back then most information was passed along by newspapers and through the writing of letters and by people assembling to conduct meetings.  Those meetings were conducted face to face because there was absolutely no technology that would enable people to communicate except through newspapers, or by face to face meetings. It was clear that the government was to do nothing to impede this free flow of information among the citizens of our country. When we think about totalitarian regimes we often immediately think about the names of the news organizations that these regimes create to spread propaganda.  The old Soviet Union had Izvestia and Pravda.  In such governments, sources of news were tightly controlled and only published the “company line.” When we witness the overthrow of governments around the world, the coup is often carried out with close coordination of the seizing of radio and television stations.  Those who seize power know that they must control the news that is disseminated to the citizens of the country they seek to conquer.  It is clear that news reporting plays a critical role in the governance of a nation. Now I must ask you to consider a fundamental question: How do you know what is going on?  We are inundated with news from the four corners of the world nearly every minute of every day.  Often we are overloaded with information that is provided in newspapers, magazines, radio and television programs, computer websites and by speaking with our neighbors, colleagues at work and other folks. Some of the information is accurate while other information is utterly bogus.  We are often provided with “news reports” that are, in reality, thinly veiled editorials. To be fair, everyone brings a certain bias to news articles they write, but true journalists should strive to provide what Sergeant Friday became famous for saying on that old television series, Dragnet, when he would question a witness to a crime or the victim of a crime by saying, “The facts, ma’am, just the facts!” While many stories receive undo attention–consider how many times news programs will provide “breaking news” coverage to a police chase in some small town that has no impact on anyone outside of that town, while truly significant stories go unreported. There is the oft-cited question, “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there, does it make a sound?”  I would change that question a bit and ask, “If a tree falls in the forest and it is not reported, does anyone know?” Sometimes news reports cover a story but then neglect to mention relevant factors.  This is the journalistic version of the crime of omission. How many times have you read a news story and then had more questions than the news article answered?  A good report should answer all of the usual questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Clearly news reports can only be of a certain length.  On television, the reporter may only have three minutes to cover an important story.  Clearly facts will be left out.  Newspapers are also forced to live within word counts.  However, when it is obvious that major elements of a story are left out you really have to question why this is being done. When a foreign national who commits or attempts to commit an act of terror is identified as being “home grown” because he has been in the United States for a couple of years or less, it should become immediately evident that the news reporter should not be entitled to our trust. When a news report fails to note that a crime was committed by gang member(s) that reporter and the organization he (she) works for should no longer be considered a valid source of information. Increasing numbers of newspapers are failing.  Part of this may be attributable to alternative sources of information and the desire of folks to use electronic internet devices to obtain news reports, but I also believe that many folks are coming to the same conclusion I have–that we can no longer trust certain news publications to deliver honest, balanced and fact-based news reports. Ever since I decided to go public with my concerns about the many failures of our government to deal effectively with a variety of issues especially where border security and the immigration system are concerned I have urged our fellow Americans to become activists to make certain that their elected representatives truly represent them. With New Years rapidly approaching would urge you to not only resolve to take your citizenship seriously but to also write letters to newspapers, magazines and radio and television stations an make your concerns about the way that they report (or fail to report) on important news stories. The First Amendment is often thought of as simply relating to “Freedom of the Press” but it really empowers our citizens to make certain that they also get their voices and their concerns heard.  Of course the responsibility that then falls upon our shoulders is to fact check that which we put “out there” in the social media.  We must not become viewed as the “Boy who cried wolf.” Where “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is concerned, we must ask the questions even if the media and our political leaders would rather not be challenged by We the People.  That is our obligation and must be one of our New Years resolutions.

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