Deferring to Authority  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Letters
From AJR,   December/January 2008

Deferring to Authority    


I found Rachel Smolkin's article "Justice Delayed" about the Duke University-district attorney scandal (August/ September) very interesting. But this is only a part of the picture. It is not just sloppy journalism that needs to be corrected, but journalism's tendency to give too much weight to officials in business, church or politics.

For example, few newspapers for several years exposed President Bush's claims about the Iraq War. He was constantly quoted in the press and shown on TV repeating the same lies or half-truths. A little digging was all that was needed, but some say the press felt it had to defer to authority maybe fearing it would be left out of the loop if it did not. There is another possibility, however, and that is that the press has been indoctrinated in the view that authority figures are to be believed until proved guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Innocent until proved guilty is fine for the courts, although too often ignored, but it is not fine for the media. Whatever happened to the marketplace of ideas, where truth wins out only after thorough argumentation?

Roy Lechtreck
Alabaster, Alabama

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