By Barry Jagoda
Journalists covering wildfires, and their readers, know the meaning of “real news.”
“Fake news” is a laughable concept in a disaster zone, where information provided by the media can be a matter of life and death. Readers, listeners and viewers—urgently needing facts—also know the critical importance of professional journalism.
As fire rages, political figures who might term reporting “fake” would do so only at their peril. Partisanship ends at the fire line where first responders try to save lives and property. Coverage is essential. Here journalism is seen as an adjunct to emergency services.
Work and life in the danger zone is an antidote to the slanderous term sometimes applied by public figures who conveniently deride the work of news people. Readers understand the need for facts about arson, about sufficient deployment of firefighters and their gear.
A cure for throwing around malicious terms like “fake news” comes when there is peril all around, when lives are at stake and when truth is employed by media personnel giving information which can be the difference between survival and dying.
In the poisonous polarized political world of our times those on one side of an issue can fling about terms that demean journalism. This kind of attack would get nowhere with one living and working in zones of natural disaster—including earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and hurricanes. Here the products of reporters can easily be understood to be vital.
Demagogues—in Washington and other world capitals–who specialize in attacking or distorting journalism will get no response. Their filth finds no incubation in circumstances where getting facts to the front of the minds of citizens is crucial.
Controversy over policy and politics—attacking journalism—has no place when lives are at stake. No one can be a sneering enemy of journalism at the front line of disaster.
Barry Jagoda, an award-winning broadcast journalist, was special assistant to President Carter for media and public affairs. He lives in La Jolla.
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