Press must have the freedom to do its job

The press, media, or just journalists in general, can be the most annoying, irritating, frustrating tick-like substance I’ve ever experienced in my whole life. I lower my head in disgust and wonder “what has this world come to?” That is most assuredly no lie. The famous test pilot, Chuck Yeager, referred to the press as “root-weevils” in the historic film, “The Right Stuff.”

However, and this is a big however, the press, media, or just journalists in general, are essential to keeping this country free. And you can take that to the bank, as Robert Blake used to utter in his TV show, “Baretta.”

There was a time when we, Americans, knew the importance of a free press. We defended their right to be free; to print or broadcast what they believed to be important. We supported that. It seems like we don’t anymore. It seems like we blame everything on the press and not on ourselves. The press simply reports on what we do, if they do their job right. Sometimes they don’t do their job right.  But who does their job right all the time? I certainly don’t. We can all do better, and we must do better.

I need to remember what I’m writing here. I need to remember this each and every day because there are moments – we all have them – when we just don’t know anymore. Is what we are doing the right thing or the wrong thing? The answer is simple: do what’s right and true to you and you won’t fail. You might fail others, but you won’t fail yourself.  Anyways, as Bob Dylan once wrote: “There is no success like failure and failure is no success at all.”

Now, you might be asking yourself what does any of this have to do with the price of tea in China? Nothing and everything. What the hell is this guy talking about?

Well, here’s the deal: As much as the press makes my backside crave sour buttermilk. I will defend its right to make my backside crave sour buttermilk – every chance I get. This country is built on the notion that we must allow a free, robust press that looks at all of us with a critical eye. Our nation depends on it.

One of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, put it this way back in 1787 to Mr. Edward Carrington: “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.” Amen!

By the way, that last sentence is the most important of the thought: “…every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.” We all need to get smarter. We all need to get more involved. We have to.

The reason I got a bug up my backside about this tonight and wanted to share with you these tedious thoughts was because too many of our journalists are being threatened with jail for doing their job.  I was reminded of that earlier this morning when I read a Los Angeles Times guest editorial by former New York Times’ reporter Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in a Virgina jail protecting her sources. She was writing about another journalist, who broke a story regarding the horrific shooting in the Colorado movie theater. The other journalist, Jana Winter of Fox News, also is being threatened with jail for protecting her sources.

Reporters doing their job should be applauded not jailed. Yes, there are times when the press steps on itself, and then they should be held accountable and face the consequences.  But those times must be few and they must be far between. Our freedom depends on it. Sorry for the lengthy diatribe. It’s late and I’m tired. Thanks for the visit.

Talk soon.






About stevewhitmore

Former award-winning newspaperman and broadcast journalist, both radio and TV, spanning three decades. Army-trained paralegal, court bailiff and prosecutor's lead investigator for the 8th Infantry Division's Judge Advocate General's Corp., Mainz, Germany. 1973-1975.
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