An American flag hangs in front of the office where I work. From this pole, a flag has flown in the quarter-century I’ve been here.
A picture hangs in the foyer leading into the building. It shows the newspaper office in 1930. A flag graced the entrance at that time, too.
News people have a certain protocol they follow in covering events. While not originating with this, it abides by the old sports maxim that “there is no cheering in the press box.”
You don’t root for a team while covering a team. By the same token, you don’t applaud for any person you will write about.
A governor walks into a room to speak. Maybe a senator. Everyone claps. I never do. Nor do my colleagues. That’s just the way of it.
On another point, I can not speak for any other news person. Smart people make their own decisions, and I make no judgments. But here’s what I do.
When a group recites the Pledge of Allegiance, I recite along with the leader. When a singer offers the national anthem, I rise and put a hand over my heart.
Is this cheering from the press box? If someone accuses me of going easy on America or American leaders in my news coverage, let them make their case. But I doubt my behavior will change in this specific regard.
My belief has never shifted that as an American journalist, I’ve had it pretty good. I have the protection of the nation’s founding document. The first two dozen words of the first article of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights provide me the liberty to write what I want without government intrusion.
That’s no small matter. That particular freedom has stood well, has been essential, as part of the American experiment.
Not that chafing hasn’t taken place as press freedom rubbed against individuals and circumstances and assorted other constitutional guarantees.
George Washington found glowing press as he took office as the first president, but his second term ended with newspapers criticizing him as a “corrupt monarch” and Washington regarding the press as “infamous scribblers.”
Another founder, Thomas Jefferson, defended press freedoms as a constitutional author. After a presidential campaign, he said, “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”
Nothing new exists under the sun, true, but the animus of President Trump toward the working media feels, at best, undisciplined, and, at worst, dangerously reckless.
Americans might discount his remark last week about journalists — “get rid of them” — as one more instance of this president’s bombast.
That he said it in the presence of Vladimir Putin, a man who literally has gotten rid of journalists (26 murdered since he became Russian president), seems particularly egregious.
That the comment came on the first anniversary of a gunman entering a Maryland newspaper office and killing five employees, the bad taste, and incitement, compounds itself.
Abuses occur in my business, as they do in any business. Reporters and editors have different skill levels, different work ethics. But in my 39 years as a newspaperman, I’ve never known anyone to “fake” a story.
I’ve been blessed to have had colleagues of the hardworking and most earnest sort, wanting only to do an honest job. I lament that they have become vilified in a careless way at the highest level of government.
In this week celebrating American freedom, I give thanks for the First Amendment and I take seriously my obligation to do right by it.