JUSTICE IN JOURNALISM & THE KANSAS CITY STAR
April 20, 2004
Kansas City, Missouri
By David Arthur Walters
Downtown Kansas City Journal
A New Yorker asked why I bother criticizing The Kansas City Star, a paper whose prejudices are already very well known.
"Why bother with them? Nobody with half a brain trusts them, anyway, at least not since the Texas interests took over. Forget about them, it's a waste of your talent. Get out of Kansas City, come back to the Big Apple."
I bother because I am keenly interested in justice in journalism. The Star certainly has its merits, it does a great job in some areas, but it falls down in those areas where its prejudices and selfish institutional interests are concerned. The editors and reporters of the Star all too often forget the difference between news and advertising or propaganda.
Of course people do not have the right to know from the private press any more than what they are told, and an editor or the owners are the final arbiter of what gets printed in a particular paper. But people do have a duty to expect some semblance of the truth from the press and other media. Not only should the facts actually reported be accurate, but the facts on both sides of every controversial issue should be reported. Then all sorts of opinions and commentary on the facts can be formulated by everyone concerned. And those opinions should also be fairly aired so that the public may have the full benefit of the debate, in a mirror, as it were.
It is only just that all sides of an issue be brought forward; otherwise the cause necessary for liberty of the press will be subverted. When control of the media falls into a few hands and the very reason for liberty of press, namely justice, is ignored, revolution might become necessary to restore the balanced reporting that could have saved the peace in the first place.
Witness for instance how the media let the American people down in its disgraceful turn towards right-wing authoritarian politics and the hysterical rush to war. The manipulation of opinion was almost as disgraceful as the credulity of people who responded to the pandering to their brute instincts. I was called a traitor for denouncing the pretexts, the lies, and the bigotry of the thuggee organization; yet I was not ashamed of anything but the media and my fellow countrymen who panicked and stampeded, in a direction contrary to enlightened principles, while the prevaricators and hypocrites gave lip-service to those principles, referring them to the founding fathers as if all those fathers were of one mind.
It is reasonable to expect just reporting from the press and other media. Without justice the state will perish. Justice is the virtue that civilization cannot do without; therefore everyone has a duty to not only to express his or her opinion on important subjects but to give some quiet audience to the opinions of those who disagree. I say nothing new here - I embellish ancient platitudes and hackneyed maxims. Plato's Protagoras broached the subject in mythical form, referring to the myth of Prometheus and Epimetheus, or forethought and afterthought.
The gods fashioned mortal creatures out of the elements and commanded Prometheus and Epimetheus to provide qualities to them. Prometheus agreed to allow Epimetheus to distribute the qualities. Prometheus, in turn, would inspect the creatures when his brother finished. Thus did the animals get their respective attributes. When Prometheus inspected them, he found them suitably furnished except for the humans, who were naked and had no means of survival. Alas, Epimetheus had no more qualities to distribute to humans - the other animals got the lion's share. Wherefore Prometheus stole the wisdom of Hephaestus and Athena, so that man could invent his own means of survival and defend himself. Now I presume that the famous divine "fire" Prometheus stole from the gods is wisdom, for none of the arts may be practiced without it.
Plato's Protagoras narrates the progress of human beings through the invention of language, clothing, shelter, agriculture and the like. At first they did not live in cities; they were weak and were the prey of stronger animals, but they applied Prometheus's gift and by means of arts and crafts learned to make war on the brutes. But they did not fully develop the art of government, which includes the art of war, until they gathered together in cities.
'When they gathered together, having no art of government, they dealt unjustly with one another, and were again in process of dispersion and destruction. Zeus feared that our entire race would be exterminated, and so he sent Hermes to mankind, bearing reverence and justice among men: "Shall I distribute them as the arts are distributed: that is to say, to a few only, one specialist in the art of medicine or in any other art being sufficient for a large number of laymen? Shall this be the manner in which I am to distribute justice and reverence among men, or shall I give them to all?" "To all," said Zeus, "I should like them all to have a share; for cities cannot exist if a few only share in justice and reverence, as in the arts. And further, make a law by my order that he who has no part in reverence and justice shall be put to death, for he is a plague of the state."