“Governments, politicians and corporations,” writes Stephen Davis, an investigative journalist, editor, and television producer, “have always attacked reporting and reporters that they do not like.” While there isn’t much that is new or revelatory in Truthteller, Davis does provide a window on the challenges of reporting when a powerful corporation, government agency, or individual is determined to suppress the truth. As Americans have witnessed since 2016, Donald Trump attacks the credibility and competence of the media at every opportunity and deems any story not to his liking as “fake news.” Trump also attacks individual reporters with a vehemence not seen since the Nixon administration.
Reporting is dangerous work in Russia, China, Mexico, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines. Reporters who dig too vigorously often wind up murdered in these countries. In the United States, the means of suppressing news stories and confounding the public are less violent but still very effective. Davis lays out more than a half dozen techniques used by the powerful, including attacking the messenger, delaying, and manufacturing an alternative truth. The latter tactic was mastered first by the tobacco industry and later turned into an art form by the fossil fuels industry. Creation of an alternative truth also comes into play when a military mission goes wrong.
Truthteller reinforces the value of journalism and the need for rigorous investigative reporting in a democracy. No democracy can function when the truth is whatever the leader claims it to be, regardless of reason, logic, or evidence. In a world awash in information, citizens need to be even more media savvy.
“It is not hyperbole to say that there is a war on journalism,” Davis writes. “But don’t call it a war on journalism — it’s a war on truth.”