If we ask questions of officials you think are doing a good job, we're called partisan. If we aren't aggressive enough with those you think are bad guys, we're "covering up".
But if we're not around--in all our goodness and badness--to ask questions, shine light into dark corners, and dig deeper than elected folks want us to, then Democracy is strangled without the information it needs to thrive.
The Founding Fathers recognized that value and enshrined it in our First Amendment.
But a free and aggressive press is mandated by more than the Constitution. It's required by common sense. Citizens without information have no way to make informed decisions.
Fortunately, there is some good news for those of us in the reporting business.
In the era of President Trump, subscriptions to the big papers are up.
The New York Times picked up 130,000 new subscribers last November — 10 times their average monthly growth rate. Subscriptions at The Wall Street Journal spiked 300 percent, the LA Times went up 61 percent and Vanity Fair picked up 13,000 new subscriptions in one day. The now-profitable Washington Post is hiring 60 new writers. NPR recently said that “Big Newspapers Are Booming.” (Techcrunch.)
Social media is also breathing new importance into cable and online news stories.
But last week was a bad week for the press.
U.S. Media were kept out of an Oval Office meeting with Trump and 2 Russian officials but the Russian news agency TASS was allowed inside.
A photographer for a Russian state-owned news agency was allowed into the Oval Office on Wednesday during President Donald Trump's meeting with Russian diplomats, a level of access that was criticized by former U.S. intelligence officials as a potential security breach. (ChicagoTribune.com)
On Friday, after the media pointed out the continually changing WH story behind the Comey firing, an irritated President Trump tweeted he might just end all press briefings
...Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future "press briefings" and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy??? (Twitter)
And here in WV, reporter Dan Heyman was literally arrested--put in cuffs, taken to jail and charged--for aggressively asking questions on Cabinet Secretary Tom Price.
After persisting in his questions for nearly a minute, Mr. Heyman was pulled to the side by officers of the West Virginia Division of Protective Services, also known as the Capitol Police, handcuffed and charged with a misdemeanor count of willful disruption of governmental processes. He spent eight hours in a local jail before the news service posted a $5,000 bail for his release. (New York Times).
I talked with Heyman this week on The Watchdog Morning Show about the experience.
Dictators like to operate in the dark. Uninformed citizens are easier to fool and frighten.
With one-party rule in Washington and the looming likelihood of stacked courts--from lower level to the Supreme, an energized and energetic press may be our last line of defense against the rise of a monarch.