Remember Bill Biggart (at left) or Chauncey Bailey?
I’ll get back to you on that.
Meanwhile, for the first time in my memory an American politician was recently charged with assaulting a reporter. Apparently the new paradigm in American politics is “intimidate, prevaricate, and physically assault,” the electorate. If it seems like reporters, and by extension the electorate is made of abused spouses, then I’d say you’re on to something.
There should be little argument from anyone there is a war going on against reporters. Some merely see it as divine retribution while others see it as anti-American.
Four months after Donald Trump’s inauguration a reporter in Montana is allegedly “body slammed,” by newly elected Republican congressman Greg Gianforte – who said the reporter aggressively interviewed him. Apparently the term “sticks and stones” is a call to arms for those like Gianforte.
In Kentucky, residents tell me Matt Bevin is holed up in the Governor’s Mansion and is busy redecorating it with his own political fecal remains as his relations with the once venerable Courier Journal has devolved into seminal grunts over a campfire.
Sunday, someone apparently even shot up the offices of the state's second largest newspaper - The Lexington Herald Leader.
Then there is West Virginia where a reporter was jailed for aggressively reporting – that is asking questions in a public place (At the statehouse) of a public official.
And who could forget presidential candidate Donald Trump making fun of a physically handicapped reporter and President Donald Trump calling reporters the enemy of the people.
Of course, recalling all of President Trump’s battles with the press would take as much disc space as Fallout 4 and the results would be just as apocalyptic.
Meanwhile our President is slashing the budget, building the defense, a privacy fence on the Mexican Border which may or may not come with umbrellas, slashing healthcare so the only acceptable pre-existing condition will be death, and proposing tax cuts that promise to aid even the poorest millionaire.
The underlying GOP component to this madness is the very real concern brought about by a bloated federal government and a mind-numbing bureaucracy that resembles Vogon poetry more than anything else. Cutting government and the budget makes a great deal of sense – not necessarily the programs the president favors cutting - but you get the idea.
As much as Republicans preach about decentralizing and downsizing government though it is amazing they still do not understand the rewards to be obtained by applying those same principles to the economy and business – particularly when it comes to the press.
"President Trump has a unique opportunity in his hands"
President Trump has a unique opportunity in his hands, and if he recognizes it even liberals will have to doff their hat to him in a semi-respectful fashion – after they pass insulting memes to one another on the Internet. Okay, I grant you sometimes those memes are in response to the anti-Hillary memes some sore winners on the right trot out every month as sure as a heroin addict invariably retreats to the needle.
The complaints of fake media and false news, which have long plagued our industry – just read your H.L. Mencken from 80 years ago and you’ll see it was old even then – could be quieted. At the same time with two simple pieces of legislation the president has it in his ability to not only make a significant step in ending the problem of fake news, but at the same time promote the type of journalism everyone says they want – if he would support the shield law currently to be sponsored by Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin and once proposed by his own vice president. A national shield law is symbolic of a government that recognizes the importance of vetted facts and seeks to promote obtaining those facts while limiting the possibility of jailing a reporter who does his job.
The second piece of legislation would create more avenues for reporting and would open competition to acquire information. For this the president merely needs to support breaking up the large media monopolies. Much as breaking up AT&T led to more competition – so will breaking up the large media companies – a mere handful of which control 90 percent of everything you see, read or hear.
These large companies maximize profit by minimizing costs – in many cases the cost of putting reporters out in the field. Fewer and younger (i.e. less expensive) reporters help shrink the bottom line and make stockholders much happier.
This creates a void and since the thirst for knowledge isn’t slaked by real reporting, it is being quenched by the brackish reporting of low paid partisans on both sides of the aisle whose only allegiance is to getting seen and known at any price. It is one of the reasons we see so much false news. How much better would it be to have people who actually know how to confirm and report accurate information doing the job instead of people who invent stories involving all public figures – including the president? While you can never eliminate all the flotsam in the system, a healthy jolt of competition would be the high colonic the industry definitely needs.
If there is any reality behind the president’s rant against journalism and if he’s intent on supporting the First Amendment – as press secretary Sean Spicer assures us - and ridding the industry of its pestilence at the same time – then he should support both measures.
The question is will he do it?
Now consider what every reporter who covers news is now considering. How long will it be before a reporter is again jailed? Again beaten? Perhaps shot? There are certainly factions in this country who wouldn’t mind doing one or more of these activities and there is nothing stopping them from unleashing hell on some 22-year-old fresh out of college whose only sin is to attempt to gather the news.
If a congressman can get away with pummeling a reporter – what is next?
Whatever that may be and no matter how violent, you can bet even then there will be a hue and cry as some will claim the poor idiot deserved it and the rest of the country will be up in arms.
The President – despite his claims he would bring us all together - has not helped to heal wounds, he’s rubbing them raw. He’s making it more difficult to govern and more likely than ever that additional violence will result. While only Gianforte shoulders the responsibility for whatever actions he took in Montana, the president is indirectly responsible by fanning the flames of discontent.
"The problems caused by those who fan the flames are readily apparent when an uncontrollable wildfire erupts."
The problems caused by those who fan the flames are readily apparent when an uncontrollable wildfire erupts. We are on the precipice right now.
Lately I’ve come to once again understand – even more than when I was a child and cursed as (insert your favorite ethnic slur for Arabs here) – what it feels like to be a “subset” of humanity.
I’ve had people tell me “All reporters are (insert your favorite curse word here – after the color “Blue” as an adjective and you get the idea). “
Then they clear their throat and say, “Oh, but not you. You’re one of the good ones.”
Of course those who despise me don’t tell me anything at all – unless they’re issuing vague or grotesque threats via the Internet, letters to the editor or tweets.
The animosity grows while the chances for rational thought seem to dim.
The guiding philosophy of the nation has long been “I disagree with what you say, but defend to death your right to say it.” I hope no one considers me dramatic when I say I will fight to my death to maintain that philosophy.
That is why President Trump, I urge you to support those two legislative measures. No one will ever figure you to do it. No president has ever done it. No president, despite their lofty claims of support has ever done anything remotely like it.
I challenge you to have the guts to be the first
This Memorial Day we remember those who’ve fallen in the armed services for our country. But who remembers the reporters and the photographers who’ve also died in the line of doing their duty? We are usually with the first responders at accident scenes, in wars, and on the front lines armed with nothing more than a microphone, or sometimes a camera or maybe just a pen and paper or a laptop. We willingly face our own mortality day in and day out knowing we have little or no ability to fight our way out of a scrape. I’ve known many unsung heroes who’ve been attacked and beaten just trying to get the news to the public. Those people deserve recognition and respect as well – not threats and not to be labeled “the enemy of the people.”
Now who knows Bill Biggart or Chauncey Bailey? Bill was a freelance photographer who died photographing the rescue effort outside the World Trade Center before the towers collapsed.
Bailey was an Oakland reporter investigating corruption who got killed about 10 years ago by the target of his investigation.
They are just two of those who’ve lost their life trying to inform the public.
Ask yourself this; how can someone who goes unarmed into a battle – whether it is in a war, against nature, a riot, or investigating corruption – how are they the enemy of the people?
Everyone claims they want real news – but the government won’t support real news gathering, takes away the tools of the trade, intimidates us and when all else fails a reporter is blamed.
“Don’t shoot the messenger,” is supposed to be a metaphor – not reality.
Yes, we are at war. The war is being waged by those who wish to end free speech, freedom of thought, the ability to worship as one pleases and freedom of assembly.
Your move Mr. President. End the war now.