DETROIT – As someone who prides myself on my ability to keep cool, I don’t know yet how I feel about my spur of the moment defense of my profession. But at a time when the flow of solid and reliable information is critical, a White House take-down of American journalists seems out of place to me. I’m looking right now at a newsroom that is almost empty; 80 percent of the WDIV staff is working from home. But the reporters are the ones who are in the field right now. There is no way for them to cover this crisis from anywhere but the hospitals, homes and businesses where the coronavirus is doing its damage. I admire them and the thousands who are doing the same work all over the world.
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I, of course, realize that the president really has qualms with just a few journalists – the op-ed pages of newspapers and a select group of cable news commentators. But that’s the icing of the journalism cake. The bulk of the cake is made up of people like me, reporters who are obsessed with facts and details and simply letting people know what’s happening in the world around them. And in moments of a crisis, reporters run in while others run out. The flow of information right now is paramount and I can’t believe that we’re able to put six hours of news on the air every day given the hurdles we have to navigate at the moment.
I say time and again that as a reporter, I am not in the opinion business. Most of us in journalism aren’t. We leave that to cable and op-eds. Right now, we’re trying to figure out how enormous the virus challenge is, what to do if you feel ill, and what awaits you should you, God forbid, need a hospital. It is hardly a political opinion to point out that the messaging from the White House has been, as I put it, like air hockey. We’ve gone from the virus being a Democratic hoax and “the 15 (cases) within a couple of days, is going to be down to close to zero" to a few days later a national emergency being declared to just a few days ago the suggestion that we should be largely through the crisis by Easter. What kind of coverage of that kind of back and forth is fair? Or unfair?
Journalism is, yes, a business, but there’s a reason that it’s the only business mentioned by name in the Constitution. It’s a vital part of a functioning democracy. I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of reporting from places where it isn’t so valued or protected --- China, Russia, Cuba. Believe me, you don’t want any part of that. I want the standards for me and my colleagues to be extraordinarily high. I want much to be expected of us. But I also want us to understand the character of the people doing that work. John Adams said that there are two creatures of worth in the world – those with a commitment and those who require the commitment of others. I work every day with people who have a commitment. And as I said in my moment of improvisation, regardless of how you feel about the president’s policies, I hope you’ll reject the idea that that commitment is unworthy of your time or trust.