By Beth David, Editor
Free speech and a free press together are, inarguably, the first pillar of democracy, the most important part of the foundation that allows people to be free. If you can’t speak your truth, if you can’t write your truth, if you can’t shout your opinion from the rooftops, then you cannot be free.
It is the reason it is the First Amendment to the US Constitution, the first. The very first thing that our founders knew, was that government should stay out of religion and people’s speech. A free press is enshrined in our Constitution, a document that is the envy of the world, as the first in the Bill of Rights.
We are right behind the three branches of government, and just as important. Hence, we are called the “Fourth Estate.”
No person or organization should fear the wrath of the all-powerful government over speaking the truth, no matter how unpopular that truth might be, no matter who disagrees with it, no matter who it might upset.
We, as Americans, used to know this. I hope enough of us still do.
Freedom of the press is not only for those outlets that the government agrees with. Freedom of the press is for everyone, including speech that makes people uncomfortable, and especially for speech that makes authorities uncomfortable. Bias is irrevelant. We have a right to be biased as much as we have the right to be objective.
Remember, power cuts both ways. If government can shut down one outlet because the administration does not like it, then it is entirely possible that the government will change its mind and shut down the other guys.
This is not to say that people cannot complain. Heaven knows I have had my share of complaints from readers over the years for things I’ve written here on this editorial page, for stories we’ve covered, for the way we have covered them. I will not try to remember stories that we covered over the years that I feel made a difference. That’s for my readers to decide. Suffice it to say that we have held some feet to the fire and have gotten some results.
We’ve lost readers over stories, gained readers over the same stories, lost advertisers and gained advertisers for the same exact words. We’ve been threatened with lawsuits (and other actions) by politicians, too, believe it or not.
My response was usually, “Go ahead, I can use the publicity.”
But if truth is in these pages, then they have no leg to stand on and they know it. No lawsuit ever materialized.
But what we see now, on the national stage, is different. I can’t say these dangerous attacks on the press by this president are unprecedented because I’m no historian.
I can say it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
I have said before on this page that this president does not know what it means to be an American. His attacks on the press prove that. He simply has no clue, or worse, he does know and he is deliberately trying to destroy our democracy.
It is one thing to play the “no comment” game or to try to skirt some of the disclosure rules, or to play a little loose with the details. Those are things that reporters have learned to combat in various ways. And we have the courts on our side, for now anyway.
But when the leader of the free world acts like a schoolyard bully, mocking, berating, and pointing his finger at journalists who are the ultimate pillar of a free society, and calls them “the enemy of the people,” egging on literally hundreds of people to taunt them and scare them, then it is he who is the enemy of the people.
I am especially intrigued by the whole idea of this president and his followers calling everyone who disagrees with them “snowflakes.” Liberals are snowflakes, political correctness is all about protecting fragile snowflakes. Yet, this whole attack on the very thing that makes us who we are, our right to a free press, begins and continues simply because one man in a position of power had his little feelings hurt. He wants accolades. He wants ass-kissing. Everything else is “fake news.”
And those he calls snowflakes? They stand tall amid a frothing throng of angry, red-faced haters calling them names and calling them the enemy of the people. And they do their jobs. That looks a lot like bravery to me.
I write this editorial on this date because the Boston Globe put a call out to all newspapers and asked that we show solidarity in the face of this evil against us. No one told anyone what to write. It was a simple call to stand as one, on this day, and write about a free press. Kind of like a protest rally, but in writing.
None of what I said here today is new. If you are a faithful reader, you know that I have spoken out against the wannabe tyrant in the White House before today. Oh, how he would love for us all to go away.
I have been publishing the First Amendment on the cover for months now, directly in response to this president’s behavior.
In a blog I wrote right after the election (http://bethdavid.net/blog/2016/11/25/it-will-not-be-okay-just-because-you-say-so/), titled “It will not be okay just because you say so,” I list a bunch of places that I believed would be instrumental in making it be “okay.”
Featured prominently on that list are some fine newspapers. Without them, we are a Banana Republic, with a state-controlled press, and this president would love that.
So, I sit here, one little snowflake, promising not to bow down to the tyranny. Who will join me? Together we will make a blizzard the likes of which DC has never seen before.
I leave you with this, from our cover.
Judge Murray Gurfein, Pentagon Papers case, June 17, 1971: “The security of the Nation is not at the ramparts alone. Security also lies in the value of our free institutions. A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know.”
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Click here to download the entire 8/16/18 issue: 08-16-18 USCG Eagle