Like it or not, 'real' news matters
By: James F. Bracher, Founder
Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership
Co-Author: Integrity Matters
Journalist-historian Richard Reeves was asked by a college
student to define "real news" and he answered that real
news is "the news you and I need to keep our freedoms."
As readers, hearers and viewers of the current reporting
of the news, what portion of what is
presented to the public is essential for the retention
of our freedoms? What percentage is
entertainment, posing as news? What amount is editorial
and biased opinion, masquerading
under the banner of "news" that is "fair and balanced"
information? These questions are meant
to move individuals to think hard and long about the current
state of the news we all absorb.
There are challenges to remaining informed, intelligently
and objectively, in our era. Perhaps
things today are no different than in the past, however,
the power of the press, print and electronic can make
things seem worse. A few excerpts from a speech by Bill
Moyers may shed light on our challenges.
In November 2003, Bill Moyers, while providing the keynote
speech at the National Conference on Media Reform, offered
the following three quotable and important insights (in
bold type, to which I have offered commentary):
1. "Free and responsible government by popular
consent just can"t exist without an informed public."
My observation is that a growing number of
people seem not to seek information that might challenge
any opinions they already have. Associating only with
those who are like-minded and who offer little or no challenge
can lead to a drifting toward ignorance and even irresponsible
actions. This is no way to sustain and strengthen any
form of free government, most especially a democracy.
Since perfection is seldom achieved without refinement,
should the world of ideas and institutions be treated
2. "The greatest moments in the history of the
press came not when journalists made common cause with
the state but when they stood fearlessly independent of
Most of us recall the wisdom that power corrupts
and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The challenge
for those who would accept social and literary responsibilities
is the act upon the dual role: comfort the afflicted and
afflict the comfortable. When the press is free to provide
each service, society is stronger, which means our freedoms
3. "If free and independent journalism committed
to tell the truth without fear or favor is suffocated,
the oxygen goes out of democracy."
One of the mysteries of a democracy and a free
press is that they can exist, often at odds, without seeking
the destruction of the other. The integrity of our system
(economic, political and cultural) depends upon our ability,
and freedom, to disagree without being disagreeable. Even
when we are rascals, we do not need to stoop to a zero-sum
game, scorching the earth as we offer differences of opinion.
Debate and discussion, conflict and resolution, all can
be conducted in the bright light of openness and honesty.
When the common good is relegated to anyplace on the agenda,
except that of first place, then any number of activities
can sink the democratic "ship of state."
Moyers further commented in his November speech that
way back in 1776, Thomas Paine came to America, a penniless
immigrant from England, who had left a trail of failure
as a businessman and husband. Just before enlisting in
Washington's army, he published Common Sense, a hard-hitting
pamphlet that slashed through legalisms and doubts to
make an uncompromising case for an independent and republican
America. It has been called the first best seller, with
100,000 copies bought by a small literate population.
and insightful Paine had something that writers, and leaders,
of today need to restore, an unwavering concentration
to reach all of the people with a message that each one
matters and can stand up for themselves. He couched his
message of human rights and equality in a popular and
readable style. "As it is my design," he said, "to make
those who can scarcely read understand; I shall therefore
avoid every literary ornament and put it in language as
plain as the alphabet."
Here are some samples of Thomas Paine's straight-forward
language, and you will clearly see that what he wrote,
difficult for some to accept, confirmed his insights and
his integrity, intelligence and courage:
"These are the times that try men's
"Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered."
"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly."
"Virtue is not hereditary."
"Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the
sight of God than all the
crowned ruffians that ever lived."
Real news reporting is always about integrity, intelligence
and courage. Integrity provides the platform for truth
seeking. Intelligence builds the road to insightful, accurate
and thorough research. And courage is a timeless quality
and becomes all the more important when the government
or any other institution of power and control is tempted
to suggest the legitimacy of censorship.
Demand the "real news" -- the news you and I need to
keep our freedoms. It is important, always has been, and
it always will be. Integrity matters.
James F. Bracher, creator of the Bracher Center for
Integrity in Leadership, is the founder and chairman of
Dimension Five Consultants, Inc. a management consulting
firm in Monterey, California.
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