Fighting for a free press

There have always been outlets for conflicting views, especially in politics, and today there are more than ever before. In the end, it all evens out. Justice prevails. Truth wins. Facts trump rumor, innuendo – and even lies. If that sounds like a Pollyanna view of the world, so be it. That’s what I believe. The bedrocks of democracy are open government, the free press and free speech. But our open, transparent government and a press that is free to scrutinize the government’s actions are under pressure these days. Fort Worth’s Bob Schieffer has lambasted the White House for the snooping around Associated Press reporters’ phone records, and the government’s intrusion into the privacy of Fox News’ James Rosen. Schieffer’s commentary can be found on I’m surprised that Schieffer doesn’t have more outraged company among his fellow members of the press. I’m concerned that if our industry doesn’t demonstrate an appropriate level of outrage, that the public will end up not taking all of it seriously enough. True, the press is not popular among Americans. Some may think the invasion of press privacy is warranted – particularly after the U.K. phone tapping scandals. But do Americans realize that their privacy is just as vulnerable as the members of the press? These breaches mean anyone could be the next target of secret investigations or recrimination for exercising their right of free speech. If this can happen to employees at two huge news organizations, The AP and Fox News, then it could happen much more easily to a private citizen. The difference is that The AP and Fox News have a platform from which to fight back. The average American does not have a voice, a bully pulpit or a PR team. Does the public care? Not enough. A recent poll by the respected Quinnipiac University polling group showed Americans were more concerned by the IRS probe and Benghazi than the seizure of AP records. They should care. If the press is to be the public’s watchdog on government, questioning officials’ actions and motives, then the public must be able to trust our actions and motives. The Obama administration is not the first to cast a cloud over free speech and press freedom in the service of its own self-interest, and it won’t be the last. Obama isn’t the first president to relish the media’s admiration while undermining its mission. But America can take heart that these episodes are fleeting in the context of our nation’s history. There will be a new president and a new administration soon enough. Just as poor reporters eventually get sidelined, public officials who betray the people’s trust are cast aside. In the end, our system works. The truth wins out. It’s called checks and balances. But it can be awfully painful waiting for the scales to balance.

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