As soon as the proctor said "time's up, put your pencils down," late last Friday afternoon, thousands of high schoolers across the country threw down their pencils and pens and sighed in relief. It was the last day of two grueling weeks of AP tests, the culmination of an entire school year of frazzled essay writing, perpetual late nights, and endless stress building up on our shoulders. As much as these tests were a source of gnawing anxiety, they were a sign of the end of the school year and curriculums that most people wouldn't return to until college, if at all.
Not everyone had taken all of their AP tests — people with conflicting test schedules took their tests this week, one week after the last official testing date for the APs. For this reason, among many others, the College Board had asked, as it did every year, that students refrain from sharing or discussing the tests in any sort of manner, or face severe consequences such as the nullifying and voiding of the tests.
Despite all of that, the Internet was flooded with memes in the days following each exam, and social media overflowed with numerous posts vaguely mentioning test content including Gauntlet and Mr. Pickle, the internal temperature of potatoes, and communist snails, among other things. Despite their very stern warnings against sharing test content, College Board could not stop high schoolers from expressing their thoughts, even in the face of severe consequences.
Although not on the same scale in many senses, that's exactly what is happening to the media right now. In the face of adversity and a federal administration threatening to denounce and discredit them, the press continues to seek the truth and deliver unbiased opinions even though they are actively told not to. President Trump had declined to attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner earlier this month, instead opting to host a re-election rally in Pennsylvania. His counselor, Kellyanne Conway, has repeatedly denied questions and statements from the press, instead deferring to "alternative facts" as a source of her defense.
How have we gotten to this point where seeking the truth is something to be shameful about? If anything, in times of crisis and uncertainty, shouldn't we be turning to the objective facts to find a semblance of security?
The political climate that America has adopted has been drawing sides since it shifted last year. It has been pointing fingers — media outlets that publish negative commentary, no matter how many objective facts they cite, are deemed "fake news." When the facts don't agree with one's opinions, they are immediately called "alternative facts," as if there could be multiple truths that contradict one another.
That hostility and dismissal for truth has bled into our societal constructs as well, and people who are rooted firmly in their beliefs despite facts bombarding them — climate change deniers, people who say that "equality already exists and that there is no further need for "feminism" or equal rights," people who say that they don't "see color because racism no longer exists" — all thrive off of this confirmation that the facts no longer stay faithful. They say that the facts lie, that these "alternative facts" and statistics are "fake news."
As someone involved in journalism, this is deeply concerning; as a citizen of my country, this is extremely worrisome. Human civilization has always improved through well-supported research and an objective observation of our world and societies. We progress through persevering for truth and the justice in that truth.
When the news is said to be no longer trustworthy and media and journalists are labeled with uncertainty by a political party, chaos thrives. That's how trust falls apart, and that's how a country falls apart. It doesn't only mean that we cannot believe anything that the media says — it also means that we can't believe anything that the federal government and presidency will declare in times of crisis. If the president isn't willing to trust the news to give the truth to the media, then how will we ever know how to react? How will we ever know to tell between fact and fiction? By silencing the truth, all the president does is open up the floodgates for lies and panic.
Uncertainty is a dangerous road to trek when it comes to politics. Accusing the media of being untrustworthy is even worse, especially when tensions are already as fraught as they are. The press has always faced backlash when reporting the news honestly; now, in the face of being accused as "fake," it must prevail to report honestly ever more so.
As American journalist and politician Clare Boothe Luce declared in the opening to her speech made at the Women's National Press Club in 1960, "On a working, finite level, [good journalism] is the effort to achieve illuminating candor in print and to strip away cant. It is the effort to do this not only in the matters of state, diplomacy, and politics but also in every smaller aspect of life that touches the public interest of engages proper public curiosity .... It is — to use the big word — the pursuit of and the effort to state the truth."
Journalistic integrity is a right and a duty; to discredit it is to deny that people deserve to know the truth, and to know the truth is a right. The president can deny it all he wants, but the fact stands that no matter how much he and his administration try to silence the media, they won't ever be able to stop the truth from prevailing.
Stephanie Tom is a high school student who lives in New York. She's an editor for her school newspaper, and an assistant editor for her school literary magazine. She has previously won a Gold Key from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for her poetry, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Dear Damsels, Hypertrophic Literary and elsewhere.