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Like it or not, 'real' news matters most

By: James F. Bracher, Founder
Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership
Monterey, California
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 any differently?

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 it."

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 are safer.

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.

Courageous 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 souls."
"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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