Zakaria Urges Journalists to “Keep the Faith” Amid Assault on Democratic Values

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U.S. journalists, once protected by democratic institutions and liberal values, are now joined in a common struggle with colleagues around the world who find themselves under threat by authoritarians, CNN host and analyst Fareed Zakaria said at ICFJ’s Tribute to Journalists 2020.

Accepting ICFJ’s Founders Award for Excellence in Journalism, Zakaria told a global audience that journalists in the United States don’t risk their lives the way reporters do in some parts of the world. “I’ve often felt almost embarrassed to be an American journalist and watch these people risk their lives. But now, all of a sudden, I feel as though we are all in it together.”

During the online ceremony, Zakaria said he has been stunned to watch populism turn to authoritarianism in many countries over the past two decades. “It has also come to the West. If you look at the rise of populism in the West, the most troubling feature has been the way in which often-popular leaders turn on the very liberal democracy that has nurtured them.”

In the United States, he noted, “we have a president who routinely calls the free press the enemy of the people” and assaults other democratic values. “If they collapse, if we collapse in our efforts to defend them in the United States, a country where journalism, journalists and the press are constitutionally protected ... if it starts to flail here, what will it look like everywhere else in the world?”

Zakaria, who also is a columnist for The Washington Post and a best-selling author, said he was honored to accept the ICFJ award alongside outstanding journalists from Egypt and Russia because the tribute highlights “the incredibly important work that journalists around the world are doing, and how important that work has become. It really is a life and death struggle, and what is at stake is liberal democracy itself.”

In a Q&A session with CNN colleague Wolf Blitzer following his acceptance speech, Zakaria noted the multiple plagues converging on the world, such as massive fires, more frequent hurricanes, severe droughts and global pandemics. He said “we are living life in a very risky way that almost invites nature’s revenge” and urged people to live “in a more sustainable way.”

He also said President Donald Trump contracting COVID-19 was bad for him politically. “It returns the subject to COVID. Anything that brings us back to the pandemic is bad for Donald Trump ... because the American people have essentially made the decision that he has mishandled it.”

Zakaria said journalists must educate the public to understand that the U.S. presidential election might be too close for an immediate result to be known. “We have to educate the American public to understand it’s not election day, it’s election week.”

In the face of multiple threats, Zakaria said, “It is so important that all of us keep the faith, keep talking about these issues and writing about them...because ultimately that is the only defense we have.”

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