When journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing Oct. 2, his disappearance quickly made headlines around the globe. Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi government, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and is suspected to have been murdered by a 15-member assassination squad.
Although Saudi Arabia denies any official responsibility for his death, evidence of footage that shows Khashoggi entering — but not leaving — the consulate suggests that Khashoggi joined the ranks of hundreds of other journalists who have faced serious consequences for doing their job. In 2017, at least 81 journalists were killed, and over 250 were imprisoned due to the risks and dangers associated with the nature of their investigations. The fact that investigating public officials or exposing flaws within government systems could mean a death sentence should be a very real, very large red flag for citizens and journalists in the United States, whose constitution currently provides press freedoms that other countries don’t always enjoy.
In today’s era of fake news and assumed bias, it is easy to discredit the work of journalists simply due to the title of news organizations they work for. We’ve learned what websites to visit when we want information that supports President Donald Trump, and we also know which sites will be more critical of his endeavors. However, when we doubt the veracity of news simply because it comes from a news station with a name we don’t like, we undermine the very real sacrifices — of time with family, of sleep, of careers and of lives — that are associated with this profession. When we attack journalists and their credibility, we downplay the important role that news gatherers play in our society.
The profession of journalism is known to act as the Fourth Estate of government, providing checks on the legislative, executive and judiciary branches. From the very foundation of our country, it has been imperative that journalists can expose flaws in the government and quickly distribute information unhindered. There’s a reason that freedom of speech and of the press is included in the First Amendment; without information about the inner workings of the government, it’s easy to be misled or to misunderstand important decisions that will have immediate impacts on citizens. Transparency, provided by journalists, contributes to political efficacy within the United States and is paramount to the functioning of our government.
In an era when our political leaders attempt to discredit news that exposes negative characteristics, we have to be willing to defend the press and understand why it was established. Although our government does not — yet — threaten the lives of journalists due to their exposes, undermining their credibility and the information that they present simply because it isn’t flattering is arguably more dangerous to our democracy. When we stop believing news simply because we disagree with it, we stop thinking critically. When we stop thinking critically, we stop critiquing the role our government plays in our lives. And when our own biases begin to censor news for us, it’s a slippery slope between questioning the necessity of the freedom of the press — or eliminating it completely.