Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Integrity challenged?

As I was reading of a story about a journalist who was fined 45,000 dollars because she would not reveal her sources in a court of law a question came into my mind. And who did I ask about it? Yup, grandpa.

“Grandpa, why do journalists believe they have a right to remain silent about their sources in a court of law?”

Without hesitation he began his explanation by saying;

“Because, boy, there are times that in order to get some people to talk about something that the journalist intends to write a story on he must promise not to reveal the source's name to anyone. And we live in a society where people are raised in the belief that we should keep our promises. It is a sign of integrity. But there is something else that must be understood about promises too. That is, never to make a promise you cannot keep. And this is where the controversy occurs. Is the journalist giving a promise that he should not have given in the first place?

Now, what the journalist is trying to do is to claim he has the same rights that the clergy of the country have been recognized as having. And this right of the clergy is founded in the concept of belief of confidentiality of the confessional. That is a very important belief of Catholicism. Without getting into the intricate details of the belief behind the concept and principle, it is a belief that a person enters into the confessional booth for the purpose of seeking forgiveness of God for his actions.

And there is no doubt of the fact that this is one of the beliefs of the Church. It is one of the seven sacraments that the Church instills into their followers. Its uniqueness comes from the fact that it can be said as one of the defining beliefs of Catholicism. Thus, to require a priest to testify in court would be enforcing a law on to an establishment of religion and that would be clearly against the Constitution.

Now, this illustrates one of the problems with the idea of considering this nation a secular nation as opposed to a nation under God. If we were recognized as being a nation under God there would be no doubt as to the difference in being a member of the clergy and a member of the journalism and why this right belongs to the clergy alone.

But as a secular nation God is not to be considered when speaking of political rights. So, this right is only seen from the perspective of one person making a promise to another. Journalists then try using the same reasoning used to give the clergy that right to try to claim the same rights. It is only by allowing God to be a factor in the reasoning that it can be seen as to why it is a right of the clergy but not of the journalist.

Another concept that is closely related is the concept of justice. Justice or the lack of it was the foundational reasons given in the Declaration of Independence. For within that document the founding fathers declared the injustices that were imposed upon us thus justifying our actions at the time.

And in our justice system every man has a right to confront his accuser. Without the recognition of that right would be an act of injustice itself. So, if any man makes an accusation of any kind against another man he should be willing to stand by that accusation. And that means he should accept the fact that his accusations will be confronted.

And this is where the journalist differs from the clergyman. The journalist will print that accusation for all to know then claim confidentiality of the accuser. The clergyman will reveal that accusation to no man. It is my belief that if a clergyman would get up in front of his congregation and reveal what was confessed to him in the confessional the law would not recognize his right to remain silent either. For the belief of the confessional would then have no meaning or purpose.

So, boy, there are big differences between any confession a journalist hears and any confession a clergyman hears. In the revelation of a confession a journalist will only hurt the innocent man and that is injustice itself. In keeping hidden the confession the clergyman will hurt no innocent man. In the revelation of that confession a journalist is placing justice into the hands of man and expects man to judge. In keeping hidden the confession the clergyman is placing justice into the hands of God expecting and believing that God will judge.

The journalist will, in time, end up losing his integrity while the clergyman can only maintain his. This is because, sooner or later, he will reveal something that will turn out to be false. We have seen numerous cases where this has already occurred. Dan Rather is but one good example of this.”

I could only chuckle at his explanation. No wonder that I feel guilty at times when keeping a secret told me. It is because I made a promise that I should never have made in the first place.


dcat said...

Oh and we wouldn’t want to leave out Henny Penny with the sky falling and all now would we ;)

Fact is important.

The Griper said...

yes fact is important if the truth is important.

but so are promises if one is to maintain integrity. the question is in knowing when to make a promise so as to maintain your integrity. and the journalist is dependent upon the source as being truthful. the clergy are not.

and when you abuse rights given you, you then place the rights of all who enjoy that right in jeopardy. that is the basis of the need of laws.

Goat said...

When the journalist reveals state secrets that harm the state then punishment is in order.

The Griper said...


ahhh yes, that too. an aspect i never considered addressing in grandpa's lesson. my only "excuse" for ommitting that aspect would be that i had no good example to back it up. lol

Tapline said...

Griper, You present some interesting points. Some of which I do not agree, but each to his own. One other area that you did not approach is the Lawyer, Client relationship, even clergy must report child abuse, but not your attorney. In certain states, I'm not sure it is that way in all states for sure....

The Griper said...


the attorney/client relationship is an entirely different relationship though i admit i never thought of that aspect when writing this post.

the attorney/client relationship deals with the concept that the accused does not need to testify against himself. what my post deals with is not of the accused but of the accuser. the accused has a right to confront his accuser.

as for disagreements i welcome them and appreciate hearing them. i will either rebut them or learn from them thus help me make my posts a better read for my guests. i have changed my posts before because of what i have learned.


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