U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price faced tough questioning by Associated Press reporter Matt Lee at a press conference on Feb. 3. The questioning began after Price told reporters that the United States had information that Russia was planning to release propaganda against Ukraine, without providing any evidence.
“What evidence do you have to support the idea that there is some propaganda film in the making?” Lee asked Price. The press secretary went on to tell Lee that the claim derived from declassified intelligence information.
Lee then asked Price where the information was, to which Price responded that he had just delivered it.
“No, you made a series of allegations and statements,” said Lee. “That’s not evidence.”
Lee’s questioning of Price continued for some time before the State Department spokesperson began taking other questions. Other reporters echoed Lee’s request to see evidence to support the claim. Price assured all of the reporters assembled that the information was declassified, but did not offer any additional information.
This back-and-forth between Price and the journalists demonstrates the need for members of the U.S. news media to serve their “fourth estate” role as watchdogs of government. The American news media is often referred to as the fourth branch of government, emphasizing the importance of informing the general public of the government’s actions.
In today’s Age of Information, however, the media is often portrayed in a negative light. This is not entirely without basis, as many outlets forgo objectivity in favor of promoting a political agenda.
While we cannot be certain whether or not Lee’s response was rooted in political bias, the main take-away from last Thursday’s press conference is the seriousness that reporters should take into their role as members of the fourth estate.
There are plenty of second-rate journalists would not have bothered questioning Price, instead taking his word that the State Department had the evidence to support its claim. The role of the media is not to simply regurgitate information, but to ask the questions the public wants to know and to hold elected officials accountable.
Whether motivated by opposing political ideas or not, Lee’s relentlessness illustrates the continuing need for journalists to fulfill their role as our nation’s fourth estate.