I am a journalist and I am not your enemy.
I never thought I’d be writing the sentence printed above, but I find myself motivated not out of fear, but concern for democracy. Furthermore, I’ve never felt so strongly about the role of the press as I do today. Today, possibly more than ever, we need a free and robust press.
When I was a child, Walter Cronkite reported nightly about the Vietnam War. My first memories are of body counts, grainy black and white images of helicopters, and bloody soldiers being moved around in stretchers. Then, in 1968, after years of reporting on the war, Cronkite told the viewers in a rare on-air editorial piece that enough was enough.
“It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate,” he said.
Many historians consider this one of the most powerful bullets ever fired in the war. The public, armed with a straight-talking source and indisputable facts, began decisively pivoting against the government’s powerful will and entrenched narrative of the necessity for the war.
A free press was indispensable in 1968. A free press is indispensable in 2017.
I also do not mean this column to be perceived as a political statement, although recent remarks from President Trump only underscore the urgency of my convictions. The wheels of democracy only function when an independent and free press plays a vital role on behalf of the citizens.
And as of late, the free press is being pressured to back down from providing an aggressive role in keeping elected officials and government bodies in check.
This is a dangerous road for society — one that leads to a junkyard of other societies crushed by the weight of an oppressive government.
Open discussion among a wide range of passionate and different opinions is a hallmark of the American democracy. Collectively we’ve spilled blood, sweat, and tears to pay for this right to disagree. We should be alarmed when anyone tries to erode or belittle our process of airing differences.
Thomas Jefferson, while developing the architecture of the newly formed government, believed so strongly in this principle he put his words to paper in 1787 to a close friend.
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
If Jefferson were alive today, I am confident he’d feel the same. Social media, 24-hour news cycles, and citizen journalists all play an important role in our democracy — as do a person’s own critical thinking skills to vet and challenge what they see, read and hear. We, the receivers, are the ultimate gatekeepers.
Power is intoxicating. Human nature is highly questionable. Bad things happen to good people. The press is there to dig, uncover and tell these stories for the public and those who cannot speak for themselves.
I am not your enemy.