Framing This Discussion (from the Discussion Guide)
When we assign journalists to cover a war, and they are embedded among the troops, what do we expect in their reporting?
The duties of patriotism and secrecy that concern us in wartime have to do with military advantage and the need to raise hopes at home and sow despair among the enemy. Many believe that the only stories and images that should emanate from the war zone should show the enemy still ruthless, but helpless and in disarray, while our troops are shown as virtuous, heroic, enormously powerful and winning. Some would say that showing our troops in a bad light should not be reported.
When journalists under fire are asked as a matter of patriotism not to make public what they see, their country may suffer in two distinct and different ways. First, the journalist's function to tell the truth that is needed for citizens to act rationally for the public good may be lost. Second, the true and good understanding of patriotism, which should be concerned for the "rightness" of the country as well as its identity, may be lost. In asking journalists to self-censor their work in the interests of patriotism, would we lose the unique perspective that the journalist can bring to the country's understanding of itself?
For a deeper examination of the analysis abridged here, see the Discussion Guide.
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Philosophical Grounding of This Discussion (from the Ethics Reader)
Thomas Jefferson once said that there should be a revolution at least every twenty years, and that we would understand the rights and wrongs of it by watching the reaction of the people:
"I am persuaded myself that the good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army. They may be led astray for a moment, but will soon correct
themselves. The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro' the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
To read selections from philosophical texts relevant to this program, see Ethics Reader.
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