The United States has been a curious experiment in government from its inception. Highly influenced by the Magna Carta, our forefathers sought to govern themselves. No king. No despot. No tyrant. A nation of ordinary people making decisions for their own lives and working together to help each other – that was the ideal upon […]
The United States has been a curious experiment in government from its inception.
Highly influenced by the Magna Carta, our forefathers sought to govern themselves. No king. No despot. No tyrant. A nation of ordinary people making decisions for their own lives and working together to help each other – that was the ideal upon which our government was founded.
The bedrock to this experiment was and has been a well-informed electorate. That free flow of information has been instrumental in exposing the evils of slavery, the hopes of the Civil Rights Movement, the dreams that landed man on the moon and giving parents a thrill at seeing their son and daughter in print. Sometimes, when first published, those facts were contested and called false – though they later turned out to be true.
The struggle then boils down to writing things with which the government disagrees versus the governments spin on events. Because of this, and much more, an independent press is specifically protected in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That was no easy accomplishment in the 18th century. The press in that day was partisan and filled with rancor. Each party had its own printing press and in many cases, the newspapers of the day were little more than the tools of politicians. Still, those politicians knew they had to protect this ugly, tattered voice of dissent and opposition else the new country would flounder under the hubris of its leaders.
And a curious thing happened. The freedom of the press led to a freedom of expression and the fledgling nation’s desire to hold their representatives accountable to the masses led to an explosion in reporting.
Over time, this evolved into the idea of objective reporting so as to give readers vetted facts upon which they can make decisions for their own lives. The free press has seen some good and some trying times.
As H.L. Mencken noted in the 1920s, the newspaper industry also became tainted as it grew in stature. “The rewards of their trade used to come in freedom, opportunity, the incomparable delights of self-expression; now they come in money.”
Radio, television and the internet have come forward to be major platforms upon which we now publish information vital to the republic – and it seems we’ve retreated to the partisanship upon which the country was founded.
Still, no matter how good or bad reporting has been – and there have been monumental mistakes made by major organizations with sterling reputations during our history – the First Amendment has protected us. It enables us to make mistakes. It enables us to correct those mistakes and it gives us the opportunity to give our fellow citizens views inside government they otherwise would not see.
Today, for a variety of reasons, the duty we perform for the republic is under fire as it never has been. There are fewer newspapers, fewer reporters who have institutional knowledge of the institutions they cover and fewer outlets to publish the information.
While the internet has seemingly given us an unlimited way of reaching our audience, it has produced far more people who do not verify their information before publishing it. The popular saying tells us a good lie will make its way around the world before the truth puts its boots on. Today a good lie will be click bait and make money around the world before the truth gets online.
And yet, there is no substitute for a free press. Nor can there be, for it is in making mistakes that we find the truth. In presenting what we know at the moment to be factual can be grist for revealing heretofore unreported facts you otherwise may not know.
Community newspapers hold city and county councils accountable for how they spend our money. A good reporter will uncover malfeasance and misfeasance in government. A good news organization will let you know if or how you got ripped off by a private company, a government and give you a good idea of who is making money off that speeding ticket you just paid and how that money is spent.
A strong First Amendment enabled us to uncover scandals as notorious as Watergate. Meanwhile, in our newspaper our award-winning investigative series last year told the two million residents of Montgomery and Prince George’s county how safe their drinking water is and how to hold people accountable for the water we drink. None of this is available without a free press. The Boston Globe encouraged more than 200 newspapers this week to write about the importance of a Free Press. We step up with no reservations and with the hope that our readers and readers around the country understand a couple of basics.
We will make mistakes. We will be wrong. We will correct ourselves. In The Sentinel newspapers we will print facts on our news pages and reserve opinions for the editorial page. On days we can’t find a good opinion to print, we’ll throw out the editorial page.
We do not even endorse political candidates. We merely want to inform the electorate and let them decide for themselves for whom they should vote.
While President Trump has declared war on the First Amendment and continues to tell us we are the enemy of the people, the simple truth that cannot be denied is that we are the people. We are the high school athlete scoring a touchdown and getting our picture in the paper. We’re the victims of a vicious fire who need help from our neighbors. We are everybody and all of our stories will be seen on the pages of our newspaper.
More importantly, we are one with our friends in Annapolis. A crazed man with a shotgun took five lives on a community newspaper just trying to keep its city informed. After the tragedy the staff put out a paper. Nothing stops a free press. It is a strong voice for self government. It is messy, chaotic and filled with the foibles of mankind – as it should be. Without free speech all you have is propaganda. We know where that leads. ”For if experience teaches anything at all it teaches us this; that a good politician, under democracy, is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar,” Mencken told us. “His very existence, indeed, is a standing subversion of the public good in every rational sense. He is not one who serves the common weal; he is simply one who preys upon the commonwealth. It is to the interest of all the rest of us to hold down his powers to an irreducible minimum, and to reducse his compensation to nothing.”
The president be damned. Full speed ahead.