Beginning Sept. 22 1906 and for three days downtown Atlanta was besieged with a race riot.
The death toll is unknown, but white mobs killed dozens of blacks, wounded others and destroyed considerable property. The crisis began when both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution reported, printed, but never verified at least four alleged rapes of white women by black men primarily in saloons on Atlanta’s Decatur Street.
Simultaneously, the former publisher (owner) of the Journal, Michael Hoke Smith, and then editor of the Constitution, Clark Howell, were both seeking the Democratic nomination of the contentious 1906 governor’s race. In order to disenfranchise black voters from the election, both candidates and their respective newspapers used their media influence to increase fear among whites that they may not be able to maintain their elite status in the coming future.
Smith won the election.
This type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes published in 1906 by both the Journal and Constitution is now called “Fake News.” The First Amendment guarantees both freedom of speech and the press. The framers of the constitution wanted a free and unabridged press. However, there was then and still is an expectation that journalists would take responsibility and ownership of their work. The expectation is that what journalists print and say needs to be more than just accurate, it needs to be right.
In 1909 the Society of Professional Journalists was formed. The mission of SPJ is to encourage high standards and ethical behavior in the practice of journalism. In 1947 SPJ adopted and still proclaims the following code of ethics: Seek Truth and Report it; Minimize Harm; Act Independently; and be Accountable and Transparent.
The question of today is simple, what has changed in journalism since 1906 to make it better? Is there any doubt that just like Atlanta in 1906 that journalists and politicians still conspire to provoke an outcome? The time has come for journalists to police themselves and bring an end to this fake news epidemic.
They have a code of ethics, they should use them. The consequences or failure to uphold those ethics is disastrous, for consumers like me will no longer have interest in buying the product, especially if we know the product is useless.
Walter K. Krauth, III