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It’s easy to kick a journalist, but the truth has never been more important: Effie Calderola

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Effie Caldarola
Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service column "For the Journey." (CNS photo)

Journalism had a huge year in 2018. The profession whose task it is to shine a light on events has itself been in the spotlight.

Is journalism a Catholic issue? Absolutely. It’s a moral issue, a First Amendment issue and it touches on the entire clergy abuse quagmire, originally investigated largely by the secular press, which took some Catholic criticism for doing so.

Journalism is a Catholic issue the same way truth is a Catholic issue.

Pontius Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?” is just as pertinent today as it was 2,000 years ago. And often, journalism is how we give him an answer.

We have a responsibility to read responsible news, good publications, sites that have won awards, even Pulitzers, sites that hire people from good journalism schools. That will steer us clear of whatever “fake” news lurks out there.

Like any profession, real journalism has its great practitioners and those not so hot. But if your dentist says you need a root canal, although it may be prudent to get a second opinion, I doubt that you’ll accuse him of fake dentistry. And he’s hardly the enemy of the people. Neither is the press.

Time magazine recently named its “person” of the year, “The Guardians,” a group of journalists. Included were the journalists gunned down in a Maryland newsroom and others imprisoned around the world. The group included Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, a Saudi national who wrote for The Washington Post, was killed and dismembered in the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul. So convincing was the evidence that Saudi’s strongman crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, directed the slaughter that in December the U.S. Senate condemned his involvement.

Strongmen and good journalists are frequently at odds. And the world is tending toward strongmen too much these days.

Meanwhile, new films on journalism were released in 2018. “A Private War,” a Hollywood production, chronicles the life and death of Marie Colvin, the American-born war correspondent who was killed in the siege of Homs, Syria.

Colvin was a risk-taker who lost an eye to a rocket-propelled grenade in Sri Lanka. A documentary, “Under the Wire,” features her as well. And on my Christmas list was a biography of Colvin, “In Extremis.”

Colvin was no saint, given to tumultuous relationships and hard drinking, but she was a woman entirely dedicated to the facts, to truth. In today’s world, maybe that does make her a saint. The incredible things she witnessed brought on post-traumatic stress disorder. She was only 56 when she died, and in praising her, The Guardian newspaper said, “She illuminated the cost of war through individuals’ pain.”

Another movie in 2018, “The Front Runner,” examines the decision made by The Miami Herald in 1987 to dig into the extramarital affair of Senator Gary Hart, a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.

Many of us forget — or never knew — that there used to be a “gentlemen’s agreement” that the private lives of politicians were off-limits to the press. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s polio, John F. Kennedy’s womanizing — these weren’t reported.

The Herald faced a lot of criticism for pursuing Hart’s dalliance. It opened the door to the public scrutiny candidates get today. Is that a bad thing? Perhaps sometimes it goes too far, but on the whole it seems like the public has a right to know.

The Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin said, “Faith has need of the whole truth.” As we suffer through continuing revelations of clergy abuse and cover-ups, we rely on the imperfect but watchful eye of good journalism to help us out.

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