The Media Is Not the Enemy


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Earlier this week, a colleague, David D. Kirkpatrick, was detained by the Egyptian authorities for several hours then forced onto a flight back to London.

His crime was simply flying to Cairo — and doing journalism that looked critically at Egypt’s leaders, both for The New York Times and in a recent book, “Into the Hands of the Soldiers.”

As far as threats to the press go, it was not as bad as it could be. Three journalists have already been killed this year just for doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and 54 were killed in 2018, including Jamal Khashoggi.

David’s experience, though, points to a related and more pervasive issue: the ways governments threaten, intimidate and undermine journalists and factual reporting.

Visas are an especially familiar weapon. Authoritarian countries like China, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba often make it difficult for foreign reporters to get journalism visas and the right to report.

Other countries, like Papua New Guinea, are more subtle about it. They tend to ignore requests for press visas, forcing some of us to go anyway on a different kind of visa, which then gives the authorities the ability to kick us out.

When I was in Manus, an island there, reporting on the detention center there in late 2017, for example, I was visited repeatedly by the authorities, then detained for more than an hour at the airport in Port Moresby as they made clear that it was time for me to go.

Many of The Times’s foreign correspondents have experienced this sort of thing (or worse) over the years, in various places.

Being a foreigner and a New York Times reporter tends to help — it’s always local journalists who face greater danger, as I saw in Mexico and Iraq — and the threats we face did not used to be something many journalists or media companies talked about very often.

But what’s interesting is that for The Times at least, that’s changing.

Our new publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, has been especially vocal as of late, advocating on behalf of journalism and journalists, and trying to persuade President Trump to tone down his rhetoric, such as his references to journalists as the “enemy of the people.”

This week that dispute flared up yet again.

A.G.’s main point speaks to something that is sometimes easy to overlook; that however flawed journalists and our journalism may be, demonizing journalists — especially as a group — hurts democracy, and has the potential to be deadly.

Just this week, the authorities in Maryland said a Coast Guard lieutenant and self-described white nationalist who had been arrested was plotting to kill several prominent American journalists, among others.

“The phrase ‘enemy of the people’ is not just false, it’s dangerous,” A.G. wrote in a statement this week responding to President Trump’s latest broadside (perhaps inspired by this story from us with new details about his efforts to undermine the special counsel investigation). “It has an ugly history of being wielded by dictators and tyrants.”

What you’re seeing now, A.G. argues (along with many political scientists), is the spread of that particular virus.

When the only defenders of journalism are journalists — when elected officials in a democracy behave as if reporters are combatants — leaders with tyrannical instincts become emboldened.

You see it not just in Egypt, but also in Turkey, Hungary, China and the Philippines, where the authorities recently arrested Maria Ressa, a co-founder of an online news start-up critical of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Australia is also not immune to politically stoked media hatred. Many Australians hear echoes of Trump’s statements in the outbursts of Peter Dutton, the home affairs minister. But you can also hear it once in a while from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has a tendency to dismiss tough questions from reporters with accusations of bias, while former prime ministers — Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull — have turned their frustration with the Murdoch-media into extended rants.

This does not seem to be something that’s likely to go away. Making the media an enemy is an easy way to delegitimize coverage that aims for accountability, and because the journalism business is struggling and increasingly distrusted, journalists are easy to dismiss as a group.

The only antidote that I can see is you — readers and supporters of independent credible journalism.

So the next time you see hear someone criticize “the media,” do me a favor: Ask them to be more specific and remind them that we’re not a monolith.

Yes, there are journalists who make mistakes, yes there are forces of partisanship and commercialism that taint what you get from some outlets — but there is also a lot of strong work being done to examine and scrutinize power, and provide people with the information they need to make good decisions.

There is a mission to guide us — we seek the truth and help people understand the world. And there is courage and determination in our ranks.

This feature on the Catholic Chruch’s struggle with sexual abuse was reported from four continents, and it’s filled with reporting and insight that made me wonder about not just religious institutions but the state of the human condition.

Just when you think you’ve read and seen it all with this scandal, something new emerges.


Sui-Lee Wee, one of our business reporters in China, just keeps turning out one jaw-dropping story after another. You should follow her on Twitter if you aren’t already.

And you should read her investigation into the business of DNA and Chinese surveillance. Really.


A pretty varied mix this week, reflecting our effort to be both more ambitious and more fun.

News and Features

A War Memorial Is Being Expanded. Some Say It Whitewashes History. The Australian War Memorial, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, will grow to commemorate recent conflicts, including war zones in which Australia still has troops.

If you care about foreign policy and the shifting nature of global power, this is a rare opportunity to hear about it straight from the man whose been reporting on it for three decades at The New York Times. Here are the details:

• 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. A.E.D.T., join David Sanger on a group phone call with Jamie Tarabay, a Times correspondent based in Sydney. Free for Times subscribers anywhere. Register here.

• 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. A.E.D.T. How are nations using cyberconflict to compete with and undercut each other? David will be speak on this and more at the Ibis Room the Pullman Sydney in Hyde Park. Free, but registration required.

• 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. A.E.D.T., For this discussion and audience Q. & A. at the University of Sydney, David will be joined by former colleague and New York Times journalist Raymond Bonner and a co-founder of the Sydney Cybersecurity Network, Dr. Frank Smith. Free, but registration required.

Source : Nytimes