Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible. If we admit that the individual is in some measure conditioned or affected by the spirit of society, an individual's crime discloses society's corruption. In a community not indifferent to suffering, uncompromisingly impatient with cruelty and falsehood, continually concerned for God and every man, crime would be infrequent rather than common.
That phrase, few are guilty but all are responsible, captures the challenge of the journalism of collapse. We can easily identify those powerful figures guilty of specific crimes. Who is guilty in perpetrating the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq? That's easy -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice. Who is guilty in the bailout of Wall Street and the big banks: That's easy, too -- Bush and Obama, Paulsen and Geithner, Bernanke and the boys. One task of journalists is to pursue the guilty, perhaps with a bit more fervor than contemporary U.S. news media; our journalists are too polite in handling war criminals and servants of the wealthy.
But when we look at the fragile state of the world, in some sense our future depends on recognizing that we all are responsible, depending on our status in society and resources available to us. Those of us in affluent sectors of society have the most to answer for, and the task of journalists is to raise questions uncomfortable for us all. This will rarely make journalists popular, but that also is not new. In each of the four Gospels, Jesus reminds us: "A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house." (Mark 6:4)
Since journalism has never really been an honorable profession, perhaps that makes us the perfect candidates for raising our voices prophetically.