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There’s always a question in the White House

20180220 150153I am a proud member of the profession of journalism, or, as one resident of the White House more commonly refers to it, “the fake, fake disgusting news!”
The First Amendment to the Constitution, which reads as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” is first for a reason.
As Thomas Jefferson so appropriately stated, if he had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” The press is not, as the current president would have you believe, the “enemy of the people;” the press is the people. It is the primary mechanism for the people to receive information; it is the tool to hold government officials accountable for their actions.
All this is to say, simply, that I take my role as a journalist quite seriously even if I find some of the people about whom I write quite comical, if not an absolute joke.

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About The Free Press

constitutionThe United States has been a curious experiment in government from its inception.
Highly influenced by the Magna Carta, our forefathers sought to govern themselves. No King. No despot. No Tyrant. A nation of ordinary people making decisions for their own lives and working together to help each other – that was the ideal upon which our government was founded.
The bedrock to this experiment was and has been a well-informed electorate. That free flow of information has been instrumental in exposing the evils of slavery, the hopes of a Civil Rights movement, the dreams that landed man on the moon and giving parents a thrill at seeing their son and daughter in print. Sometimes, when first published, those facts were contested and called false - though they later turned out to be true. The struggle then boils down to writing things with which the government disagrees versus the government's spin on events. Because of this, and much more, an independent press is specifically protected in the First Amendment to The U.S. Constitution.

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All the news that is unfit to print

20180411 160115News. Fake news. Spin. Propaganda. Left-leaning. Right-leaning. The legitimate press. The dishonest media.
So much to consider when simply trying to find out what is happening in the world. So, let me begin to help distinguish one from the other as we wade through the many possibilities.
Let's start with propaganda or, as it is more commonly referred to, FOX News. Why does FOX News fall into the category of propaganda you ask? Because the very definition of propaganda is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.”
That is exactly what FOX News does and is. It doesn't use facts to support its mission, which is to support the Trump presidency. It makes up its own facts or, as Kellyanne Conway put it, “alternative facts.” Labeling Special Counsel Robert Mueller as “corrupt” without providing any specifics of what he has done that has not been by the book and completely within the limits of the law is just one example.

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A view of a National Shield Law for the press

20171114 104122Some weeks back I decided to sit in on the House Judiciary Committee hearing with Attorney General (AG) Jeff Sessions. Having attended previous Congressional hearings with the Attorney General as the key witness, I didn't expect much in terms of new or enlightening testimony regarding the Russian meddling in our election probe and I was certainly not disappointed or, rather, pleasantly surprised by his testimony or lack thereof.
His responses to questions dealing with Russia and the inconsistencies in his previous testimony before Congress consisted of either “I do not recall,” or “I am not at liberty to discuss.” Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York put it best when he asked AG Sessions if he realized that in previous testimony he used the “I don't recall” response more than 30 times and today he used it more than 20 times to which AG Sessions responded that he “didn't recall.”
What compounded the frustration was that the hearing felt like two separate hearings conducted at the same time with only one witness; half of the inquisitors dealt with Russia while the other half conducted a hearing on Hillary Clinton. I'll let you figure out which side of the aisle focused on Russia and which side focused on Hillary.
As a somewhat regular attendee at the White House daily press briefings I am quite familiar with Sarah Huckabee Sanders' keen ability to never actually answer a question and, rather, always respond with a set of talking points regardless of the nature of the question being asked. It is an uncanny ability when you add to it the fact that it is always done with a straight face. Truly impressive if also truly frustrating. I have at times yelled out “answer the question” but without any success.
However, this Judiciary Committee hearing turned out not to be a complete waste of my time and not just because it turned out to be rather entertaining. It is because, as we found our way through the so many committee members and their questions which, the longer the proceeding went the more repetitive the questions became, we finally arrived at questions from our own Congressman Jamie Raskin.

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It is time for a Shield Law

constitution quill penFor the reporter in the street, help is at hand. According to Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) and Jim Jordan (OH-04) the help is in the form of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2017 (H.R.4382), a bipartisan federal shield law that would protect the public’s right to know by safeguarding a free and independent press. The legislation would establish a federal statutory privilege that would protect journalists from being compelled to reveal confidential sources and ensure that they can do their jobs without fear of imprisonment or intimidation.
The legislation was introduced after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee refused to commit to not jailing journalists for doing their jobs.
Although many states have shield laws or some sort of reporter’s privilege, no such protection exists at the federal level. Dozens of journalists have served jail time, including former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who served more than 80 days in jail for refusing to reveal a confidential source in 2005 – and me.

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The real problems in the press

karem joe“Why didn’t someone in the press stand up for themselves before?”
That question has been in thousands of emails, tweets and snail mail correspondence we’ve received at the newspaper this week following a viral moment I had with Sarah Sanders during an on-camera briefing at the White House last week.
I don’t know. Well, I have an idea.
The other question I’ve seen quite often is – “What is wrong with the press?”
On that issue, I have a few more ideas.

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About enduring press freedom

Brian Karem at White House press briefingI walked slowly to my bunk and looked up at the television set. Twenty pairs of eyes were on the NBC Nightly News watching a story about me.
One man turned around and said, “Man, you famous.”
Since I was in jail at the time – for refusing to give up a confidential source – and wearing jail-issued underwear as well, this meant very little to me.
Fame is fleeting. Jail underwear sticks with you for a long time.
I thought about that yesterday when my smart phone started incessantly vibrating for several hours on end.

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The case of the growling dog

Sean SpicerWhen approaching a growling dog wagging its tail, which end do you believe?
That’s the conundrum facing reporters in the White House press corps as the new administration works its way into a second month in office.
On the one hand we have a president calling the media the enemy while Tuesday press secretary Sean Spicer told assembled reporters the president has a “Deep respect for the First Amendment and the press.”

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