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Commentary: Media have responsibility to the public

By Lynn Walsh If someone read you a page out of the Bible and a page out of Playboy magazine, would you be able to tell the difference?

By Lynn Walsh

If someone read you a page out of the Bible and a page out of Playboy magazine, would you be able to tell the difference?

If your answer is yes, then according to Walter Cronkite, you should have no problem telling the difference between objective journalism and an opinion column. He once said, "objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine."

Cronkite, once known as the most trusted man in America, had a point, one that most would probably have agreed with, that is until the internet and social media came along.

In 2016, Americans experienced an election where lies were commonplace and fake news stories reigned supreme. Journalists were called "scum" by the man who is set to become the next president of the United States.

While the presidential race may be over, the wounds are still healing. And while President-elect Donald Trump seems to be softening on some of his campaign promises, he has yet to back off the media.

Like me, most working journalists have probably experienced public sentiment mirroring what Trump said on the campaign trail or on Twitter about journalism and "the media." The comments and the sentiment can be troubling for any journalist but, more important, they could be threatening the foundation of our democracy.

As journalists, we seek truth and report it. We do so by minimizing harm to those involved. We act independently. We are transparent. We hold ourselves accountable.

These ethics help us uphold our responsibility to the public. That responsibility, among other things, is to inform, provide a voice to the voiceless, and hold the powerful accountable. To do this we have to be able to function free and without fear of prosecution, as intended by our Founding Fathers.

Trump is no longer a private citizen. He is president-elect and will soon become the most powerful person in this country. The public deserves and is entitled to access and information about what he does and where he goes.

It is important that the access is not limited to press releases, videos, images, etc. that are taken by his staff, supporters, or the government. In this country, we do not live under a dictatorship where the government controls the message.

This is not about journalists and news organizations having access; it's about allowing the American people access. The public has a right to facts and original sources of information, like government documents. It is the role of journalists and news organizations to provide that to them.

If journalists don't, who will?

Will Americans only get their news from the government via press releases or Trump's Twitter feed? Will the people be lied to? Are they OK with being lied to? Are they OK with not being allowed access to the information that belongs to them?

If journalists are forced out of the White House, state houses, or city council meetings, and denied access to Trump or other officials, the public will be forced to receive news about this country's leaders and the decisions they are making through one lens: the government's.

In that case, who will stop the government from pushing an agenda, something it already tries to do?

Public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Public opinion may not be in journalists' favor right now, but the public needs real, accurate, and unbiased reporting. More important, they deserve it.

Oscar Wilde once said, "In America the president reigns for four years, and journalism governs forever and ever."

Journalists and news organizations have worked tirelessly to protect the First Amendment and will continue to do so. And, we hope, someday it will once again be as easy to tell the difference between an opinion column and objective journalism as it is the Bible and Playboy magazine.

Lynn Walsh is the national president for the Society of Professional Journalists. @LWalsh She wrote this for