The Threat to Free Press Is Real
Journalism is a dangerous career. At my first newspaper, a disgruntled reader drove a bus into the Mesa Tribune lobby. Fortunately, it was in the middle of the night and the reception desk was not manned at that time. Had it been, several people would have been injured or killed.
Keep in mind, reporters put themselves in harm’s way every day. Sometimes the danger is obvious, such as when journalists cover wars or report on drug cartels. Being a reporter in Mexico, Turkey and other troubled countries is particularly dangerous.
But even local coverage angers many people, particularly when the media reveals that a doctor is abusing patients or a government official is stealing taxpayer funds. I once sent a reporter to cover a KKK rally. When my college classmate in the 1980s didn’t immediately report back in, I became very worried about her safety. Fortunately, she eventually reappeared in the newsroom. We nervously laughed when she said, “Those people, they’re so angry!”
What makes journalism particularly dangerous is hateful rhetoric. When public figures, such as our current president, constantly attack the media, some Americans see that as a license to lash out at journalists. As a result, the number of incidents against journalists has been rising. In one recent case, a Montana candidate repeatedly slammed and punched a reporter, but he was elected anyway. This is unacceptable in a modern, free society.
It’s clear that the Annapolis shooting suspect is emotionally disturbed. He displayed hatred of the Capital Gazette long before our current president took office, so there can be no direct linkage between our polarized politics and this incident.
But in a culture where the president calls mainstream media #fakenews and repeatedly insults and demeans journalists and major media outlets, a crazy person is bit more likely to take the ultimate action of acting out and hurting people they hold a grudge against.
This is unacceptable if we want to continue living in a free society. It’s incumbent on all political and other cultural leaders to stop their continual attacks on journalism, because they are putting our free society at terrible risk.