The traditional image of Lady Justice, or Justitia, is blindfolded and carrying scales or a balance. It is well-known as the symbol of the impartiality and imperviousness to influence those passing judgment according to the law should exercise.
The law — along with the church, the military, and medicine — used to be called the “professions,” and were considered, to a greater or lesser degree, vocations.
The vocation of journalism — not opinion writing or commentary — is to embody the same virtues of Lady Justitia.
In England, for example, a lawyer was “called to the Bar”; although not a divine call, it was still richly symbolic. Many in the military can testify to a vocation to serve their country, which may even involve something of a divine call. To truly serve in the church, as a priest or minister, a vocation is absolutely necessary — both for the happiness of the individual called and the happiness of his flock. Those without that vocation can cause untold havoc.
Journalism was never considered one of the professions. Indeed, a quick internet search for unsavory things said about both journalists and journalism yields a mighty harvest.
As the “Fourth Estate” has grown in power and influence since the first broadsheets began appearing, journalism has grown into a profession and in many ways a professional class.
Some journalists will tell you they have a vocation, and that is admirable; however, I would like to propose that no one should enter into the profession of journalism without believing they have a vocation.
The vocation of journalism — not opinion writing or commentary — is to embody the same virtues of Lady Justitia. That is, to be blindfolded by impartiality; to balance the scales in all their endeavors by imperviousness to partiality, bias, or influence, particularly the influence of their own political affiliation or opinion.
The vocation of the journalist — secular or divine vocation — is to seek the truth. Surely this is a noble vocation?
A Gallup poll done in 2016 — interestingly before the election but during the election season — found that only 32 percent of Americans believed the statement that the media reported “fully, accurately and fairly” — a new all-time low.
Lack of accuracy could amount to merely sloppy journalism, but it is easy, and correct, to substitute the words “partiality and bias” for the other words the public believe characterize the press.
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We do not, whatever the chattering classes say, live in a world of “post-truth,” or if we do, it began in a Garden where the Father of Post-Truth, or Lies, promised freedom and brought servitude and death. We live, as we always have since that moment in the Garden, where truth must be sought, discerned, and sometimes fought for.
Fake news is, unless an absolute falsehood, essentially partial, biased, and inaccurate news. Fake news is the reason the public so distrusts the Fourth Estate and it is precisely to combat that distrust that journalists should look to the symbolism of Lady Justitia to renew, strengthen, or discover their vocation to seek and serve the truth.
When bias and inaccuracy — and deliberate partiality — corrupt the journalist’s vocation, democracy is in danger. When bias, inaccuracy, and partiality begin to use the news to foment political change, and to do it on a scale unimaginable in the days of the print press, we move into the world described by the great historian Christopher Dawson as the “black arts of mass propaganda and suggestion.”
“What is truth?” asked the patron of fake news more than 2,000 years ago to a man falsely accused standing before him. The truth, the man had said, “Will set you free” — and he proclaimed himself to be “the Truth.”
Just as those in the church who do not have a true vocation can cause untold misery and unhappiness, in the dark world of fake news and post-truth, the unbiased, accurate and impartial vocation of the journalist to seek the truth is needed now more than ever.
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Fr. Benedict Kiely is a Catholic priest and founder of Nasarean.org, which is helping the persecuted Christians of the Middle East.