Unlike most of Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” designees since 1927, we can be certain none of those featured this year on that iconic, red-framed cover wanted to be there.
This year, Time has four cover images, all recognizing journalists who are imprisoned, facing charges or who died in the pursuit of news on behalf of the rest of us — collectively titled, “The Guardians and the War on Truth.”
The selectees: Jamal Khashoggi, The Washington Post contributor believed killed in Turkey by a Saudi Arabian “hit squad;” the staff of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md., which saw five staffers killed by a deranged gunman; Reuters news service reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been jailed in Myanmar for a year; and Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, whose news site Rappler, a frequent government critic, faces dubious tax-related charges.
Time said it selected the group “for taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts that are central to civil discourse, for speaking up and speaking out.”
Those words, and that task, are as good a definition of journalism as we might want. The description also puts a lie to the core untruths of those critics who find any excuse to bray — mostly for political gain — about “fake news,” or who claim “alternative facts” when faced with a reality they find uncomfortable or incompatible with pre-conditioned views.
Yes, journalists — as all of us — can at times do an imperfect job. But the vast majority set out each day on that “essential quest for facts.” And in doing so, they act on our behalf, bringing us the information we need for both the decisions we make in our private lives and for the votes we cast as part of the greatest experiment ever seen in self-governance.
These “Guardians” also stand for thousands of men and women in nations around the world who put themselves in harm’s way each day to stand up to tyrants and tyranny. As the magazine noted, at least 52 journalists have been murdered this year for simply doing their jobs. Hundreds more are imprisoned and threatened. The Committee to Protect Journalists notes 262 are now being held and 60 are “missing.”
Journalists killed in the previous year, and more than 2,300 others since the early 1800s are recognized each June in a rededication of the Newseum’s Journalist Memorial, in Washington, D.C. For those who question the motives of all journalists under misleading and inaccurate references to “the Media,” — visit and learn the stories of the men and women noted on that memorial. If your view of journalism and those who practice it doesn’t shift as a result, you’re not really thinking.
The journalists’ stories were intertwined with the second part of Time’s recognition as the most “influential” in 2018 — the ongoing effort to manipulate what is true and “the many ways information is being used and abused across the globe.” In an essay, the magazine’s editor-in-chief said it was “the common thread in so many of this year’s major stories, from Russia to Riyadh to Silicon Valley.”
In the name of those who died, who are wrongly imprisoned or threatened, and in the name of “truth,” the rest of us have an obligation to step away from partisan bickering and disgraceful sloganeering — including that bogus claim by President Trump and repressive regimes worldwide that journalists are “enemies of the people.”
Call for better reporting, but also be willing to support better journalism. Continue to call for investigations and prosecutions whenever a journalist is attacked or killed; don’t settle for a politically expedient decision to excuse or ignore such criminal conduct. Defend journalism and commit to the pursuit of truth, even when it means extra effort to separate it out from misleading and false information.
In the name of those recently recognized for their courage and sacrifice, it’s Time we all did that.