As a reporter with America’s Most Wanted, and while covering crime and politics in a variety of venues during the 35 years of my career, I’ve seen hope born from despair in the eyes of crime victims, refugees and those suffering in war zones a thousand times.
Tuesday I saw it in the most unlikely of places: The U.S. Congress.
In this national atmosphere of divisiveness marked by vitriol where the overriding narrative is dominated by anger and despair as we feed the wrong wolf (apologies to Chris Cuomo who used this metaphorical tale a few weeks ago and I seem to be beating to death), I was taken aback to find in a joint subcommittee meeting Tuesday two people from opposite ends of the political spectrum joining together to do their best to end the war against the First Amendment.
“I like working with this guy,” Ohio Congressman (R-4) Jim Jordan said of Maryland Congressman (D-8) Jamie Raskin. “We’ve worked well together on this issue,” Raskin said in agreement.
The two strange bedfellows are dedicated to passing a national shield law benefitting the Free Press and safeguarding the “Public’s Right to Know,” according to Jordan.
Raskin’s bill, co-sponsored by Jordan for the last year and a half, got its first hearing Tuesday in the joint subcommittee on government oversight.
Raskin gives Jordan full credit for pushing the bill forward into the light and a subcommittee hearing after it languished in obscurity for so long. Jordan says, simply, the time has come to support the First Amendment – a sentiment in direct opposition to the president’s constant barrage of vitriol aimed at the Fourth Estate. The hearing comes less than a month after five staff members at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis died in a mass shooting.
Tuesday President Trump, appearing in Kansas City Missouri, told an audience not to believe anything they see or read – only believe him. Trump again berated the Free Press and took us to task calling us - again - “Fake News.”
At the very same time, Jordan and Raskin conducted their hearing in the Rayburn Building. Jordan an admitted fan of Trump’s who has recently courted his own controversy in the press came together with Raskin – whom Jordan calls “The professor” and is Jordan’s opposite on most issues.
The poignancy of this moment cannot be understated and it is compounded by the sadness there were few reporters or audience members in the room to see hope for our country reborn in not only Jordan and Raskin’s words, but in the words and actions of members of both political parties on the subcommittee who supported the measure.
The joy of this democracy . . . is working together
“I think we’ll get it to the floor of the House for a vote,” both Jordan and Raskin told me afterward.
The bill, hailed by First Amendment advocates as well-researched and written would give reporters a measure of protection from being jailed when they use confidential sources. It is almost a carbon copy of a measure once supported by then-congressman and now Vice President Mike Pence.
“Real reporting cannot go on otherwise,” Jordan said of the need to protect reporters who protect their sources. “We need whistleblowers and determined reporters when the DOJ and other members of the government abuse their power.”
“Democracy and its operating principle, the rule of law, require a ground to stand on and that ground is the truth,” Raskin said in his prepared remarks.
“Not everyone can go to congressional hearings, state legislative sessions or county and city council meetings late into the night. Not all of us can travel to war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam to determine the reality of our foreign policies . . . but as citizens we are all equally implicated by these events and invested in ascertaining the truth. This is why we need professional journalists and newspapers to get the information for us,” Raskin added.
When I tweeted out information from the hearing on Tuesday, I was met with a level of scorn I found both amusing and annoying. “What is Jordan up to?” I was asked. “What’s his motive?”
Others wondered if Raskin had “sold out to the dark side of the force.”
We have become so divided it seems the idea of working together for a common cause is now cause for concern.
I cannot and will not question the motives that drove the two men to work together – to do so is folly. But I can examine the facts and the bill, as presented. The legislation is supported by a wide variety of groups supporting the First Amendment. Congressmen on both sides of the aisle spoke to its authenticity and its need. I know first hand it will help.
If there are two wolves struggling inside us all to survive, according to the old proverb Cuomo quoted - one being anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego (there’s a mouthful) – and the other being joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith – which one does this legislation feed?
It benefits all of us. It would be to the benefit of all of us if we paid attention
The wolf that survives is the one you feed, the proverb goes, so does this legislation not feed the preferable wolf?
The joy of the great experiment of this democracy is that of compromise – working together as we all try to move forward toward liberty and justice for all of us. This legislation is about our core values. "I may disagree with what you say, but defend to death your right to say it." Only two opposites coming together can make this work. Perhaps only Jamie Raskin and Jim Jordan can make this work. That is what makes America the country we all dream it can be - standing up and agreeing to disagree and supporting those who would forever argue against your stances on issues.
It is exceedingly sad that it is being underreported and questioned by those in the media and those who claim they love America.
It benefits the press. It benefits all of us. It has bipartisan support in a Congress well known for little bipartisan support on most issues. It would be to the benefit of all of us if we paid much more attention to productive attempts to work together for the common weal instead of the cacaphony of divisiveness eating away at our cultural soul.
One last note: Toward the end of the movie "Lincoln" Thaddeus Stevens - as portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones is chastised by a fellow politician for compromising himself in getting the 13th Amendment passed through the House. He is scolded for saying anything to get the amendment to pass - a move which astonishes and angers his political peer. To that, Stevens replies, "I want the amendment to pass, so that the constitution's first and only mention of slavery is its absolute prohibition. For this amendment, for which I have worked all my life and for which countless colored men and women have fought and died and now hundreds of thousands of soldiers... No, sir, no, it seems there's very nearly nothing I won't say.
Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows.