The right to report news without censorship from the government—was considered “one of the great bulwarks of liberty,” by the Founding Fathers of the United States. This right is so pivotal to American society that it is engrained in the first amendment that congress cannot establish any laws that abridges the freedom of the press.

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The press in the United States is considered by many as the unofficial fourth branch of the government. It is meant to serve as a checks and balance to the powers of the actual three branches of government and essential for operating a democracy with integrity. In order for American society to function properly, individuals need to be able to make informed decisions in their lives by being able to access factual information provided by the press. But what happens when the individuals in these institutions abandon their responsibilities and begin using these protections only for their own political gains?

Each year it appears that the integrity of the media is being progressively deteriorated, and becoming less about the factual covering of news and events to instead being used as a tool to mold public perception for political influence transforming their function from journalism to propagandist. When the media is on the side of facts and disseminating information then it is considered journalism, but when it begins masquerading opinion as fact then it is no longer journalism, but instead propaganda.

Malcolm X had two quotes regarding the press that I think summarize the importance of why the decaying integrity of this institution is so important.

“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

Malcom X

How did we get here?

Institutions are founded to create entities that exceed the reputation of any one individual. They are typically built over many years, and often generations, and provide certain credibility to the people who join when properly maintained. Consider the value of having a degree from a well established university, compared to someone who gained all the same independently on their own. While both individuals might be equally qualified, society typically values the one that is accredited by means of association with an institution over the autodidact. This is because while the integrity of the individual may be challenging to be verified by the masses, a member who is accredited by an established institution, like an elite college, provides the individual a level of social capital that is recognized by its reputation for operating with integrity for so many years. So what happens when individuals use the integrity of the institutions they belong to in order to gain credibility for themselves only to provide them cover so that they can act without integrity themselves?

If the institution wants to maintain their credibility they will will need to disassociate such individuals from the institution, but if they don’t and they tolerate individuals using the institution’s credibility to behave unlawfully then eventually the institution will lose credibility and destroy whatever goodwill it had accumulated since its establishment. Take the example of Enron, which used to be considered one of the most elite companies to work for, but after the financial fraud that drove the company to bankruptcy informing future employers that you used to work at Enron was no longer considered a badge of honor.

The major news outlets have built up credibility for their institutions that spans decades this has provided a tremendous amount of influence and power in society. With the level of credibility and honor these institutions have built up over the years it is not a surprise that like most other forms of power it too was ripe for corruption. Corruption starts when an individual begins using the reputation of the institution they are associated with in order to seek personal gain. When people start misusing the institution in such ways it is a matter of time before the institution starts decaying from the inside out.

[12:53] “I do not claim innocence for myself. The self is an advocate of vice, except for those who have attained mercy from my Lord. My Lord is Forgiver, Most Merciful.”

وَمَا أُبَرِّئُ نَفْسِي إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ إِلَّا مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّي إِنَّ رَبِّي غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ

For a while the institution can parade around like normal without people noticing the rot, this is when things are the most dangerous, because the institution still has the credibility of the decades of integrity they have built up, but the internal making of something evil.

The worst kind of evil is the evil that disguises itself as good. That is why God says that the hypocrites will be at the lowest pit of Hell.

[4:145] The hypocrites will be committed to the lowest pit of Hell, and you will find no one to help them.

إِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ فِي الدَّرْكِ الْأَسْفَلِ مِنَ النَّارِ وَلَنْ تَجِدَ لَهُمْ نَصِيرًا

But as more scandals and disasters start occurring people start becoming wise that the institutions integrity is not holding up to its reputation. Simultaneously inside the institution a the positive feedback loop of corruption makes the participants more emboldened to act more and more corrupt until the rot that was once only internal start eating away at the reputation of the institution and becoming more and more apparent to the world. Eventually the rot becomes so apparent and the scandals so great that any last shred of integrity that the institution had will be all but lost.

Solution

If we choose to accept information, let alone disseminate information we need to try to make sure that the information is true, which is something most people on social media fail to do. To emphasize this point, The Science Post, published an article with the headline, “Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting.” This article to date has received over 195k shares, except the article is satire with nothing more than a couple paragraphs of gibberish.

[17:36] You shall not accept any information, unless you verify it for yourself. I have given you the hearing, the eyesight, and the brain, and you are responsible for using them.

وَلَا تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ إِنَّ السَّمْعَ وَالْبَصَرَ وَالْفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُولَٰئِكَ كَانَ عَنْهُ مَسْئُولًا

[49:6] O you who believe, if a wicked person brings any news to you, you shall first investigate, lest you commit injustice towards some people, out of ignorance, then become sorry and remorseful for what you have done.

يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنْ جَاءَكُمْ فَاسِقٌ بِنَبَإٍ فَتَبَيَّنُوا أَنْ تُصِيبُوا قَوْمًا بِجَهَالَةٍ فَتُصْبِحُوا عَلَىٰ مَا فَعَلْتُمْ نَادِمِينَ

But this is not limited to news and media, the same goes for academia, research centers, religious establishments, or any person who uses the credibility of the institution they associate with as a cover for their own personal gain.

[12:53] “I do not claim innocence for myself. The self is an advocate of vice, except for those who have attained mercy from my Lord. My Lord is Forgiver, Most Merciful.”

وَمَا أُبَرِّئُ نَفْسِي إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ إِلَّا مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّي إِنَّ رَبِّي غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ

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