Truth is always the standard in journalism

Mar 16, 2017

There’s been a lot of discussions recently about “fake” news and leaks to the media these days — issues that underscore the role of media in our society.

It would be rare for an established news publication to include anything that would ever remotely be considered fake news. Journalists are specifically trained to develop stories using individuals who are experts in their field and elected or appointed leaders in a community.

Unlike the almost around-the-clock cable news shows that feature “experts” on multiple sides of an issue that offer their opinions on news happenings, newspapers have distinct boundaries.

Factual stories where research and interviews with experts are included are in the news section of the paper. Opinions are reserved for the editorial page. While it is true some newspapers blur those boundaries, The Mountaineer has always strived to bring its readers detailed facts about important news in the community that is gleaned from many reputable sources.

Accusations that our facts are incorrect most often come from stories we write about people charged with a particular crime. The calls sometimes are not from the accused but from family members or friends of the accused. Our standard response is that the information we included came directly from public records and the agency leveling the charges. We tell them that if they can convince the law enforcement agency that made the report to change it, we will certainly change the story.

Fake news does exist, however, and the place it is most often found is on social media sites. Fake news has been described as misinformation, propaganda or hoaxes disguised as real news that is distributed to intentionally mislead people.

Regarding leaked news, that is a legitimate source of information all responsible news media will follow up on. If it wasn’t real news, the leaks would be irrelevant.

Throughout history, publishing information about topics that make government leaders, corporate stockholders or employers uncomfortable has been the role of the press.

The issue was front and center this week after a cable television news outlet recently broke a story releasing a portion of President Trump’s 2005 tax return, in which he called it illegal and a disgrace.

While the action might have been illegal for the person who leaked it, the news outlet did what responsible news organizations do — provide factual information to the public and allow readers or viewers to form their own conclusions.

The rule of thumb is that if a reporter or news publication has done nothing illegal to obtain information, there is no legal liability to publish something that is true and simply falls into their possession.

All responsible news outlets will most certainly verify that the leaked document is, indeed, a true record or depiction of an action or occurrence. The truth of the matter is, government entities, corporations and other powerful entities in our midst do things they would rather the public not know about. When those stories emerge, it is almost always because a whistle-blower understands the impact the information would have and leaks it to someone who will tell the story.

That is how a free press functions. That is how our society can escape the pitfalls of totalitarian regimes that control the information flow so tightly its citizens are kept in the dark.