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University of Missouri

Two years ago, on Feb.13, 2015, I wrote a post on this site titled “I Believe in the Profession of Journalism,” a line taken from the Journalist’s Creed written by Walter Williams, founder and first dean of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

A former student who had been in a journalism class I taught many years ago had asked me what I thought should be done about Brian Williams who was then nightly news anchor for NBC News and had “misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003.” My opinion was that he should be fired forthwith because I still believed in the profession of journalism as defined by Walter Williams in that long creed I had to memorize before I was granted the B.J. degree. I have always been very proud of that degree, for at the time The University of Missouri School of Journalism was the most respected undergraduate school of journalism in the country.

As it turned out, Brian Williams was fired.

Now, however, two years have passed. Brian Williams is being rehabilitated at MSNBC. Dan Rather, who participated in journalistic fraud resulting in the firing of three producers and his leaving his position as anchor of the CBS evening news, is opining all over the place, demanding that the truth be told (!) and we are bombarded daily by “fake news,” stories that because of careless reporting, devious manipulation or outright deception turn out to be false. We no longer know what to believe.

We should not be surprised. The political climate is so acrimonious that there is little appetite for balanced or accurate reporting. Brian Williams’ embroidery of his experience made his account more exciting and entertaining for his audience. But there is a different more sinister motive behind current journalistic deception. It is simply to delegitimize a presidency. The perpetrators make no bones about it.

It breaks my heart to say it, but I no longer believe in the profession of journalism as defined by Walter Williams. The only way we might recover is through the education of a new generation of critical thinkers. But given the state of American education, that seems like a long shot.