posted on Apr, 3 2008 @ 10:40 PM
One of the most fascinating yet overlooked (or perhaps taken for granted) aspects of societies based on representative governments is the large role
that trust plays in their functioning.
We place trust in our elected officials that they will represent us. They could easily, and often do, abuse that trust. We entrust our security to
fellow citizens who volunteer for military service. The military is nonetheless not always utilized to our benefit or in the service of our best
Likewise, we place a level of trust in our journalists. A journalist is - or used to be - judged based upon his or her integrity, honesty, and
objectivity. Those to which we bestow the greatest trust are those with distinguished careers, and track records of forthright investigative
journalism, reporting, and/or broadcasting. Granted, they could easily abuse this trust. They could lie, or confabulate, or report news based upon
other people's agendas. They might fabricate sources, or embellish real ones. However, if there remain honest, forthright journalists, then
they must rely on sources. Here again enters the notion of trust.
A journalist's sources must have trust in he or she that they will not reveal them, lest it compromise their identity. While it is true that such
secrecy creates the potential for abuse (as with any personal or institutional secrecy,) it is also true that without it, many a whistleblower,
conscientious dissident, or inside scoop might be exposed to ruination - or far worse. This is why journalists have gone to jail rather than reveal a
source in some instances. They know that their journalistic careers and reputations hinge on the magic word, "trust." If sources know that they
cannot trust them, then they aren't going to confide in them.
All of this brings us to some very important questions which, in my opinion, should be on each of our minds; questions we may need to look into the
mirror and ask ourselves, sad though it may be that we must.
Is it possible that a lack of transparency such as this allows journalists to deceive their public? Yes. It is definitely possible. There is
even some evidence to support that conclusion.
Is it certain, however, that total transparency with regard to sources could destroy the capacity for trust in journalists, thus potentially
damaging whatever remains of our supposedly free press beyond repair? In my opinion, yes.
So the real question is: would we rather trust journalists (I am making a distinction between true journalism and the mainstream media as a whole or
as a product,) or would we rather trust our government? Perhaps the saddest thing is that we must make such a choice at all.