Time Magazine’s choice of the “Guardians” — a group of journalists — as its Person of the Year is a fitting recognition of the “professional truth seekers” on the front lines in the “war on truth.”
Remember, the “Person of the Year” isn’t necessarily an honor for someone who accomplished the most good. It’s Time’s judgment of the person or people who had the most impact. Among those recognized over the years have been Hitler and Stalin.
Also among that number is President Donald Trump, who was named Person of the Year for 2016 after his stunning electoral victory. Trump, who courts the media even as he denigrates it, had expected the distinction again this year. “I can’t imagine anybody else other than Trump,” he told a reporter. And, Time reported, Trump made the short list. But the magazine made an inspired choice that puts the spotlight not just on the dangerous attacks being waged on truth here and abroad, but on the brave journalists who persist in working to uncover and report the truth anyway.
The battle over truth has had a tremendous impact during 2018, and the continuing struggle is crucial. Any casual student of history knows that one of the first acts of a would-be tyrant is to try to control the flow of information and the definition of “truth.” Edward Felsenthal, Time’s editor-in-chief, was not exaggerating when he wrote that “democracy around the world faces its biggest crisis in decades … manipulation and abuse of truth is the common thread in so many of this year’s major headlines, an insidious and growing threat to freedom.”
Time chose four individuals and a group of journalists as its “Guardians.” One is Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who was murdered by agents of his native Saudi Arabia, likely, the CIA says, on orders from the crown prince.
Then there’s the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., who put out their newspaper as they were in shock and mourning for five colleagues shot to death by a disgruntled reader.
Time also recognized journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, imprisoned in Myanmar for reporting the mass killing of Rohingya Muslims; and Maria Ressa, persecuted in the Philippines for her news site’s courageous coverage of the Philippine president, who brandishes Trump’s “fake news” epithet.”
Ressa told Time that “the biggest problem that we face right now is that the beacon of democracy, the one that stood up for both human rights and press freedom — the United States — now is very confused.” And she asked a question we should all ponder: “What are the values of the United States?”
Trump may think that he’s just playing politics as he shamelessly displays his contempt for facts and the truth. He may think he’s just currying favor with his base when he calls journalists the enemy of the people, bans critics from briefings and applauds violence against journalists. In reality, he’s undermining one of the essential elements of freedom and democracy, the freedom of the press, protected by the First Amendment.
Journalists are far from perfect. But those who labor on, despite hardships, to learn and report the truth — whether about their government or their neighborhood — deserve appreciation. May they continue to have an impact.