One thing an American journalist, in theory, can be without fear is an American; a civic-minded, well-informed citizen. Again in theory, journalists need not fear having patriotic tendencies, or overall pride in one’s community. That pride or patriotism doesn’t prevent cynicism, skepticism, or displeasure with that same community, of course. In my opinion that mixture of pride and skepticism is what helps fill a journalist-sized hole in society—we are the ones who see the darkest souls and brightest angels our communities nurture or neglect, and we are the ones who can shine a brighter light on the virtue and vice.
Young journalists are warned to be careful of their associations before they’ve sharpened their first pencils for their first scoops. “Be careful of clubs you join” or “If you are covering a political rally, don’t leave pamphlets on your dashboard” are not uncommon pearls thrown to the rookie reporter. The reason is straight-forward enough: a journalist shouldn’t associate in a way which might question the integrity of his or her journalism. Even the perception of bias could corrupt the public view of all subsequent coverage by that reporter, with justification or without. Being an American, though, well that’s just okay.
So what happens when an American reporter can’t be “American” without hesitation? What happens when a journalist has to tread lightly with one’s patriotism?