News, On Campus

CNN Anchor Jim Acosta Asserts That Journalism Preserves Democracy at Clough Center Event

Truthful journalism is paramount to the preservation of democracy, according to CNN anchor and chief domestic correspondent Jim Acosta.

“Our democracy is only as strong as those who are willing to defend it, and it’s only strong when we have the courage to tell each other the truth,” Acosta said.

The Boston College Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy hosted a lecture and roundtable discussion exploring the current state of journalism and its relationship to democracy in the United States on Thursday night.

During the lecture, Acosta recounted reporting on both of former President Donald Trump’s presidential campaigns and how the 2016 campaign especially fostered hostile public attitudes toward certain news outlets.

“During the 2016 campaign Trump would call us ‘the dishonest media,’ ‘the disgusting media,’ ‘liars,’ ‘scum’ and more,” he said. “Some of the audience called us traitors, or worse. The atmosphere was so intense we often had to race back to our cars after the rallies were over. I had bodyguards protecting me and my colleagues.”

The Trump administration skewed facts and truth, according to Acosta.

“Truth was being warped,” he said. “The facts were under attack. They still are. … It should come as no surprise that millions of Americans refused to accept the latest election results that clearly showed one candidate won and the other did not.”

These hostile presidential campaigns, attacks on journalism, and denial of facts served as the foundation for the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, Acosta said.

“Back in 2019, we the press weren’t really human,” he said. “This was the climate of fear that Trump had created. In this environment, a Trump supporter could resort to violence. It had become a dangerous time in America. I feared our nation was heading for a crash and that our liberty was at stake.”

The event also featured a roundtable discussion, featuring Boston Globe associate editor and opinion columnist Renée Graham, Le Monde Washington D.C. correspondent Piotr Smolar, and WBUR’s Radio Boston host Tiziana Dearing, who moderated the discussion.

In the discussion, Graham explained how Americans take democracy for granted.

“Even in a flawed or incomplete state, [democracy has] always been there, so it will always be there,” Graham said. “But come November nearly every state will have at least one Republican nominee who denied the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election outcome.”

Graham warned against the suppression of news by government regimes and authority, especially in light of Trump’s criticism of America’s press.

“There’s a reason why one of the first actions undertaken by authoritarians is to clamp down on [journalism],” he said. “They want to control the narrative that suits their own political needs and ambitions, while at the same time keeping citizens uninformed and fearful.”

Smolar commented on journalists’ duty to help serve and preserve democracy in a nation.

“I think in a very modest and careful way, if we just do our jobs, vigorously, scrupulously, we will serve democracy,” he said.

Dearing touched on another function of journalism: sharing both perspectives of an issue and enabling readers to formulate their own opinions.

“A third way that journalism can sit could be keeping your mouth shut and bringing forward those perspectives for the listener, the reader, the viewer to then draw conclusions, to draw out the background noise, and to bring the best information,” she said.

The lecture’s opening speaker and journalism scholar Michael Schudson stressed that journalism’s overall importance is conveying information to the public in an efficient yet impactful way.

“Journalism means trying to touch [the audience] by communicating sensibly and briefly, but more than that, by communicating through stories that have emotional impact. …This is not just an economic imperative to engage audiences emotionally. It is a serious value.”

September 25, 2022

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