Why the press must not do the government’s job

[Update: This letter was printed in the Seattle Times, Monday 9/10/07, as What’s vitally important.]

I was dismayed that at the request of the FBI, The Times decided to publish photographs of people not charged with any crime but only suspected of “exhibiting unusual behavior.”

Preventing violence on the ferries is important to everyone’s safety, and that’s why it’s appropriate for the FBI to investigate potential threats. But keeping journalism independent of government is also vitally important to everyone’s safety, and that’s why it’s inappropriate for The Times to agree to act as an arm of law enforcement.

If we are to have real democracy, we need a vital media to evaluate, report on and hold accountable the work of the government. Even when the press thinks the government is doing good work, the press must never do the government’s job, because the press has its own job to do.

The federal government, which employs plenty of full-time investigators and also runs the postal service, is quite capable of communicating directly with the people. In the future, please do not act as its agent.


About Al Bradbury

Labor journalist by day, singer-songwriter by night, Odonian at all hours.

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