During the New England Patriots run to the 2015 Super Bowl, head coach Bill Belichick famously and curtly defined the team’s mission in three simple words, words that still apply as the team prepares to play in yet another Super Bowl on Sunday:
“Do your job.”
Words to live by for a championship team, and words to live by for a team even more essential to our country’s success: American journalists.
Journalists across America do their jobs every day to report the truth. In the face of a new presidential administration that has treated the Fourth Estate with open hostility, our job is essential. This call is clear to publishers and producers, editors and photographers, beat reporters and broadcasters from the public and privately held media alike — we all have a job to do. And we need do it better than ever, regardless of what the president or anyone else may think of us.
The simple fact is our industry is under attack right now. Trust, truth, facts and accountability — these are the tenets that make up the foundation of the free press, a freedom that has been envied and modeled throughout the world since our nation was founded. As others have noted before, the press is the one profession mentioned in the United States Constitution; that alone underscores the importance of our role.
Unfortunately, today and every day since the inauguration, we have seen journalists targeted for doing their jobs and serving the public trust. We must — and do — reject terms like “alternative facts,” which are antithetical to our understanding of truth, and serve only to increase our divisions and obfuscate reality. This kind of language and deception does not move us forward in any way, nor does it serve a citizenry that is smart, discerning, critical thinking and deserving of hearing the truth, regardless of what it may be.
So, the truth is under attack and we as journalists are under attack. And when being attacked, we must respond in the best way we know — by doing our jobs and staying focused on the truth.
The good news is that news organizations aren’t wilting under the pressure. The response we have seen over the past two weeks shows a steadfast commitment to the highest standards of journalistic ethics and the presentation of facts. We remain committed each day to helping the public better understand what is going on in the world, and to do so fairly, accurately, diligently and with conviction.
In a 1963 speech, The Washington Post’s Publisher Philip Graham famously said journalists have the “inescapably impossible task of providing … a first rough draft of history.” The challenge in those words remains today, as history can only be recorded and shared if grounded in absolute truth.
Building on Mr. Graham’s words, the message to our colleagues is this: Let us work independently and together to report the truth, to hold the powerful to account and to keep the words “journalism” and “trust” together in the same sentence.
We will do this by reporting the truth and vetting facts — real facts. By holding our elected officials — as well as others in powerful positions — accountable to those they represent and whose lives they greatly influence. And by inviting all people to participate in conversations about current affairs that will help to inform our fellow citizens.
We must not cower in the face of pressure and hostility. The truth matters. Our democracy is counting on it.
We’ll show the public exactly who we are, every day, by doing our jobs. We always have.
Jerry Franklin is president and CEO of the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network. He wrote this for the Hartford Courant.