I ran across the following in a recent celebrity cipher:
“[Mike] Wallace took to heart the old reporter’s pledge to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” – Morley Safer
In the first place, this may be an “old reporter’s pledge,” but it is has been used throughout Christ’s Church for centuries. A lot of the sentiment is derived from Martin Luther’s objections to the practices of the Catholic Church in his lifetime. His objections eventually formed one of the cornerstones of what became known as the Protestant movement. In his “Commentary on Galatians,” Luther writes:
Therefore, Christ must be taught as Savior and gift to those who are afraid and have already been terrified by the burden of their sins, and not as the example and the lawgiver. But to those who are secure and hardened in their own opinions, the example of Christ should be set forth, and the terrifying examples of the wrath of God such as the flood and the destruction of the Sodomites that they might be led to repentance.
“The Encyclopedia of Christianity” (original German publication in 1986), reads:
The prophetic Word of God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. In the theology of Martin Luther (1483-1546; Luther’s Theology), these two ways in which God confronts us are called gospel and law. God’s word of good news is sufficient and does not require help, but God speaks to us in a dialogic context. The effect of the Word comes not simply from what is said but also in the context in which it is heard. “I am the Lord your God” can be comforting to someone lost and forsaken, already knowing affliction. Likewise, the same divine claim can be afflicting to those who are comfortable with their own mastery of life; the Word convicts them of sin. (vol. 5, p. 24)
More troubling than inadequately attributing source material, however, is the significant implication that news reporting is to be subjective, not objective. Mr. Safer’s attribute indicates that nationally recognized and awarded news journalists are to be engaged in defining who constitutes the “afflicted” and who constitutes the “comfortable.” Now, likely a majority of us agree on these classifications much of the time, but is it incumbent upon news journalists to report observable fact objectively or to impose their personal moral suasion in the guise of news journalism? Let’s find out.
According to the Society of Professional Journalists, there is a code of ethics. The preamble states:
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society's principles and standards of practice.
It further specifies that journalists should:
— Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
— Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
I find nowhere in these guidelines of ethical behavior where reporters are to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
I submit that regardless of how commendable some may find this “old reporter’s pledge,” that those seeking to adopt and apply it for themselves choose a vocation in religious leadership or social work instead of news journalism.