Freedom isn’t always an easy thing. One of its most unfortunate side effects is having to endure points of view we neither agree with nor respect.
The Founding Fathers seemed to recognize this, which is why after they were done with the U.S. Constitution, someone said, “You know, this thing really isn’t finished. We should make some amendments to it!” The very first of those is, well, the First Amendment, which establishes freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
On this 242nd celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which ultimately led to the formation of the finest country this old world has ever seen, it’s a nice time devote some thought to those concepts and what they mean in 2018.
The mass shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, last week should serve as a tragic reminder that working within the framework of the First Amendment is not a danger-free endeavor. In doing the jobs necessary for providing their community with a newspaper — an institution the founders believed so necessary to freedom that they explicitly protected it in the First Amendment — five people lost their lives.
Granted, this attack does not appear to have been motivated by any particular political credo or to make a larger statement about displeasure with the press, but it was still about journalists doing their jobs and apparently bringing down the wrath of a madman. If the story about the shooter’s displeasure with having been the subject of a story in the Gazette is true, these people indeed lost their lives in the service of journalism and, ultimately, of free speech.
Some people become so lost in politics they forget the basic necessity of what journalists do. Just last week, commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was quoted in the New York Observer as saying, “I can’t wait for vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.” His timing was nearly perfect.
Yiannopoulos is a right-winger who subscribes to the notion that the “liberal media” is at the root of the problems facing President Donald Trump, and therefore deserve to be shot. On sight. I’m sure there are people out there who think Yiannopoulos deserves to be shot on sight for some of the things he says, but let’s go on record here that killing someone because you don’t like what they say or write isn’t going to help bridge the ideological divide currently tearing this country apart.
I will freely admit there is some very bad reporting done in regard to President Trump. There are people who go on television and say outlandish things about him on a daily basis because they dislike him. But the power in that type of “journalism” comes directly from the people who have decided to only consume media that aligns with them politically.
If being unbiased and neutral on the issues was actually rewarded with higher television ratings, inane “panel discussions” after every story would disappear. Unfortunately, when it comes to national media, the American public has seemingly abandoned the desire for fair and balanced news in favor of partisanship dressed up as journalism.
President Trump has famously and repeatedly labeled the media as the “enemy of the American people” because he is frustrated with the daily torrent of critical stories and comments, whether accurate or “fake.” Like any good politician, Trump never admits wrongdoing and always blames reporters or media outlets for stories that are negative. This isn’t a new play, Trump is just a lot better than the average politico at getting people to listen to his whining.
But think about the reality of saying something like the media is the enemy of the American people. Does he believe media should be abolished? What would the United States be without journalists?
Does President Trump even recognize it was the dreaded “liberal media” that exposed Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to handle classified information — an issue that almost certainly tipped the scales enough to put him in office? Do those who subscribe to the notion of the press as an enemy of the people realize how much of what they know about Washington corruption was uncovered by members of the mainstream media?
Thomas Jefferson is well known for his support of a free press and recognition that it is essential for a free country. Privately he gnashed his teeth that the partisan rags of the day were tearing him apart and printing stories that couldn’t be believed. Still, he wrote, “The only security of all is in a free press.”
I’m not trying to blast Trump, because I do understand his frustration with some reporting that occurs, but calling the press the enemy of the American people is ignoring the hundreds of years of reporting that have helped keep this country free. Just think about it on the local level. How would we as a community function if we couldn’t get the facts about possibly moving the airport or putting tax dollars into USA’s new football stadium? How would the people of Fairhope know the details about efforts to possibly change their entire form of city government?
Without a free press the Luv Guv might still be there groping away, and the citizens would know nothing of the shenanigans that got former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard convicted. Facebook and Instagram are great for showing your friends the pretty sandwich you had for lunch, but hardly a replacement for a well-researched news story.
In a time when the politicians running this country have built up a $21 trillion debt and committed us to endless war, it’s bizarre to think the free press would be considered the enemy of the people. Americans who are upset with the media owe it to themselves to turn off the TV and spend 10 minutes finding the many well-written and researched stories published by reputable news outlets that are easily available for those who want the news without spin.
On this Fourth, celebrate this great country, revel in our uniqueness and realize that despite our differences of opinion, this has been mostly a wildly successful endeavor over the past 242 years. And say a prayer for those five people who lost their lives in Maryland last week playing their role in keeping this country great.