Something to Think About: The Role of Political Journalism

Isabel Giovannetti, RHStoday Editor-in-Chief

Equal opportunity, universal suffrage, freedom of thought. These are all basic tenets that we associate with a democratic society. There is one more, however, that makes the rest possible: a free press.

America’s journalists have played a fundamental role in politics since before the Progressive Era. From Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle to Woodward and Bernstein’s coverage of Watergate, investigative reporting in the United States has kept the tradition of informing the public and holding politicians accountable for their actions.

But lately, particularly in this election cycle, we have seen a different side of the media.

Journalists today are faced with a very difficult decision. In a world where six-second videos and 140-character tweets are most likely to capture people’s attention, news outlets must decide which stories will appeal to viewers.

For this reason, we’ve seen political reporters shift their focus almost entirely to the 2016 campaign. Specifically, we’ve seen them feed into the phenomenon that is Donald Trump.

Not a day goes by without the opportunity for a story on the latest Trumpism. After a dozen GOP debates, ratings kept climbing. There has been no shortage of opinion polls, live caucus footage, pundits giving their expert opinions.

Our media, at least on a national level, seems to have lost its most valuable purpose: the search for the truth.

As President Obama mentioned in a speech earlier this week, time after time, candidates have been allowed to propose seemingly baseless policies and strategies without so much as a fact check. This was particularly true of the debates, when Donald Trump could breezily mention his plan to build a wall without having to answer for it.

Rather than holding candidates and politicians accountable, it appears that some reporters are simply providing them with a platform for demagoguery.

As a person hoping to someday have the privilege of reporting the news, I think it’s essential for us to return to the days when political journalism was viewed as a public service, striving to accomplish a common good.

Ultimately, the role of the press in a democratic nation should be to provide for an informed electorate. To strive for the truth, to live by the facts. That is not what we are seeing today in the presidential race, and it is something that must change if we hope to keep our citizens engaged and our politicians governing.