Journalists are the guardians of truth. We have an obligation to conduct an honest, unbiased and informed analysis of information and then to present the facts. This will lead the reader to the truth. I argue that this relentless pursuit of the truth makes journalism the fourth branch of a democratic government. By providing the masses a source of truth, journalism acts as a check and balance to the political and economic power in society.
The journalistic journey to the truth often exposes the wrongful actions of the powerful. For example, in 2002 journalists held the Catholic Church accountable for the sexual abuse of children by priests and the subsequent cover-up by Church leaders. In 1972, the award winning reporting of the break-in of the Democratic headquarters resulted in the resignation of President Nixon. Furthermore, Ronan Farrows’ work in The New Yorker exposed the abuse of power by an iconic Hollywood powerbroker that unearthed widespread sexual assault by men in power and helped ignite the #metoo movement.
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Similar to the surgeon that conducts a biopsy, the journalist often conducts a societal or institutional biopsy in reporting a story. As mentioned, the Boston Globe’s January 6, 2002 expose on the sexual abuses within the Catholic Church shook the church to its core. The haunting story of widespread sexual abuse and a systemic failure to take action against the abusers led to Cardinal Law’s resignation and a global crisis that continues to plague the Catholic Church. The Boston Globe’s award winning journalism on this issue came more than a decade after American bishops first pledged to prevent sexual abuse. The far-reaching impact of the journalistic investigations into the Catholic Church resulted in many of its leaders and parishioners demanding reforms as sweeping as those of the Reformation.
The Boston Globe story also provides an excellent example of the power of social media to assist in investigative journalism. The Globe’s decision to post church documents on the internet provided readers with evidence that church officials spent decades covering up abuses. As a result of exposing the church’s internal records, other news organizations took hold of the story, thousands of victims came forward, and powerful institutions and individuals were held accountable for their actions. This scandal continues to be revealed by journalists throughout the world, highlighting their role as “the guardians of truth.”
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