When I’m traveling abroad and people ask me what makes America great, I have a list of things: Consistent city services like clean streets and garbage pickup. Vaccines are widely available. I say it’s nice to turn on the tap and always have a consistent supply of hot water. I sometimes mention, only half-joking, the incredible selection of shampoo and breakfast cereal. And I always say the thing that makes America really great is freedom of speech.
I’m never afraid that I’ll “disappear” after voicing a political opinion. Egyptian prisons, right now, are full of an estimated 40,000 arrested for speaking out against the president, including lawyers and journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 21 journalists were killed in 2017, 259 were imprisoned in 2016, and 55 are missing globally.
My dream for America is that we will always be shocked by the jailing of people for expressing opinions and that we will always have an independent press that is not state-sponsored or controlled.
I want to be on record now.
When I heard the President of the United States say from the stage in Arizona that journalists hate this country, my heart sank. He said, “I really think they don’t like our country. I really believe that.”
And journalists across the nation started to worry. Journalists started to fear for their personal safety. So far, it’s just been taunts, T-shirts and finger gestures – the harmless material of rivalry. But, last week, we started to wonder out loud if there would be an incident soon – a journalist attacked, beaten or shot.
I saw journalists sharing their fears on private social media accounts and I saw the replies, “It’s not you. You’re one of the good ones. It’s the other hypocrites." Nameless, faceless reporters who hate America.
Let me put a face on the media for a moment. The journalists I know see themselves as public servants. They are passionate about this country. They fight for it on a daily basis to make sure that government is open, that democracy is maintained. They are advocates for the First Amendment, not just so the press can speak but so we all can speak.
Most reporters I know are serious people, who believe in rules and law, who have a strict code of ethics.
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Most reporters I’ve know are idealists. They work long hours, under the daily stress of deadlines and high expectations of editors and readers. But, no matter how stressful it gets, every journalist I know wouldn’t trade it for the world, because we’re doing something we believe in.
Most reporters I know are outsiders, by the nature of the profession. We do not caucus or sign petitions or put up political signs. Our role is to remain neutral, to observe and report, and not participate.
Because journalists are also human, we work to acknowledge the biases we do have -- to edit out adverbs and adjectives, deleting words like “only” and “just.” Pieces that are biased, we label as such – Viewpoint, Opinion, Column – so there is no confusion.
Journalists I know make mistakes. There are typos. There are errors. Bias slips through. And these are valid points. We should daily be held accountable.
What is not valid, what is dangerous, is to say that journalists hate this country.
A lot of other editors have written about this. The Chicago Tribune published a piece of satire. Humor -- that’s how most reporters dealt with being told that the president believed they were not patriotic. They joked about it, so it didn’t feel so terrifying.
It’s not funny. Recently, the Committee to Protect Journalists, whose mission until now has focused on places like China, Ukraine and Syria, launched the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker (https://pressfreedomtracker.us/)
Last week, the rhetoric crossed the line. I want to say it now before someone gets shot. I want to say it before any freedoms are taken away. I want to say this now, before I’m not allowed to say it.