The role of the press is to keep an eye on the henhouse
The Boston Globe has called on newspaper editorial boards to publish pieces on Aug. 16 denouncing President Donald Trump’s frequent attacks on the press, specifically his oft-repeated charge that the news media is the “enemy of the people.”
We’re small fry in the media ecosystem and as such weren’t approached by the Globe, but since Aug. 16 is our publication date, we thought we’d speak our piece on the issue.
That’s because when somebody with as large a megaphone as the president of the United States repeatedly makes such an accusation, it filters down all the way and can have an impact even on the most humble news organization. So, for the record: We’re not the enemy of the people. The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees the freedom of religion, speech, assembly and petition. There’s no accident it singled out a single profession – the press – for protection as well. The founders were all about a government run by the consent of the governed, and knew full well that the governed needed information about what their governors were up to in order to make the best decisions regarding their own fate. In 1765 John Adams wrote, “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right … an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers.’’ In 1792 Thomas Jefferson wrote, “No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free, no one ever will.”
In less flowery terms, the role of the press is to keep an eye on the henhouse. Quite often, that comes in terms of covering municipal and county meetings. People are busy and can’t always sit in on these kind of official gatherings. The press is there to sit in for those who can’t attend, to let them know what their leaders on the local level are doing. These meetings are sometimes, honestly, a bit boring, focusing on the formation of a task force to study this or that esoteric concept. At other times, they can mean you wake up one day with a gun range bordering your property, or a hog farm, or who knows what. It’s our job to give you a heads-up as to what’s coming down the pike.
We may opine about the ramifications of such decisions on these pages – that’s why they’re called the opinion pages. Our reporting, on the other hand, strives to deliver the facts and the context as truthfully as possible.
At times, that truth can be painful to people, particularly when it casts someone they’re fond of in a negative light.
But it’s still the truth. And a truth many people forget in an age where there’s a war being waged on the press.
The fact is, people write their own stories. We just report them. In an ideal world this paper would be filled with nothing but positive stories (and in fact, this community being what it is, we are able to run a great many more positive stories than can be found in other communities). But the fact is, there will be arrest reports, there will be crime, there will be times when a government official, through negligence or sinister motives, does something to impact a community.
To use an example from a nearby county, there’s a reason a sheriff isn’t rolling in video-gambling money, and a reason a county manager isn’t living large on the taxpayer tab. It’s because they chose poorly in writing their own stories, got caught, and were reported on by the local press.
Sure, there are bad reporters out there, as with any other slice of society. There are bad cops. Bad teachers. And bad politicians.
But there’s a difference between a bad reporter and universal condemnation of a First Amendment guarantor by the person holding the highest office in the land.
It’s leading us into uncharted territory in this country, a potential moment described best by political theorist Hannah Arendt: “The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. … And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge.
“And with such a people you can then do what you please.’’
No, we’re your eyes, your ears, perhaps even your nose – we’ve seen many a seasoned reporter who can tell something just doesn’t smell right.
We’re not the enemy. We’re just doing a job, sometimes imperfectly, for the communities and country we love.
Cheerleaders or stenographers we’re not.
And have no intention of being such.