Those who are reckless enough with their freedom to shrug off the repeated attacks on journalists by U.S. President Donald Trump and his allies fail much more than just their obligation to protect and defend the Constitution.
They are also undermining the promise of America and its timeless quest to demonstrate to a wary world that free speech and a free press offer the best hope for those who crave liberty.
To cast questions about government leaders and policies as the activity of “enemies of the people” is to toss aside the bedrock notion enshrined in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
No country can be free if its people and its press are stymied and stifled, if they’re told that speaking up amounts to traitorous behavior, if they’re called dishonest for telling the truth and if they’re subject to the authoritarian whims of officials who lie with nonchalance.
The author of America’s Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, wrote late in life to Lafayette, a French general who put his life on the line as a young man to assist the American colonists in their bid to break free from the British.
“The only security of all is in a free press,” Jefferson wrote. “The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”
To keep the waters pure is the essence of it, really.
The reality of the world is that we are in a constant struggle, more important than ever these days, to focus the attention of leaders in every land on threats to our very existence, dangers that include pollution of our air and water.
To find our way forward – not just in the United States but in every country – we must embrace a robust public discussion and debate about what to do and how to do it.
That swirling public arena has to be wide open so that every crank and dreamer can weigh in. Somewhere in that mass of words and pictures, we’ll find a path toward a better future.
It won’t come about because one man says that he alone can fix it.
It will happen because we tackle our problems together and stumble toward a solution to them.
It doesn’t help to have powerful figures show such contempt for the hard-fought freedoms that make it possible for us to make progress. It shouldn’t take courage to publish a news story or write an op-ed or look into a camera and say what one thinks on the topics of the day.
We are not anyone’s enemy. The press is, in reality, the future’s friend.
At Youth Journalism International, we have worked day in and day out for almost a quarter century with young people who burn with hope, idealism and ambition. They are eager to play a role in this world we are about to hand over to them.
We help them find their voice and then encourage them to use it to tell their stories. And over the years, they’ve written thousands of them, from every continent and scores of countries, some that cherish liberty and others still ruled by tyrants.
We can assure everybody that these students are not foes of freedom. Nobody can tell us that these doers and dreamers are the enemies of the people.
They are trailblazers on the frontiers of freedom.
They are journalists.
Youth Journalism International joins nearly 350 other news organizations publishing editorials on Thursday, August 16, 2018, in support of a free press and the First Amendment. The Boston Globe started the initiative, which includes some of the largest and smallest newspapers in the nation.