Last Friday, I once again had the chance to visit with Chadron’s American government classes about the First Amendment.
We always start the discussion by remembering that freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly wasn’t always cherished. In fact, Virginia Gov. William Berkeley said in the 1670s that he was grateful there were no free schools and no printing. No schools and no newspapers certainly would have made it easier for government officials to do whatever they wanted, as a dumbed-down, illiterate, uninformed public equals limited accountability.
In the weeks since President Trump’s inauguration, there have been plenty of allegations about unfair and/or inaccurate reporting and fake news. Journalists are human, and honest mistakes are sometimes made. When a professional journalist or news outlet makes an honest mistake, they correct it, apologize and move on. There are certainly instances of journalists intentionally misleading their readers or viewers, and those journalists are typically fired when their misdeeds come to light.
But it’s important to remember that our role isn’t to offer unilateral support to government officials, it’s to question them, to report on the negative as well as the positive, to inform the electorate.
We live in an age when anyone can hop online and become a self-proclaimed journalist – through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. There are both positives and negatives to that. At the high school, we talked a lot about not getting your news from just one source (or from multiple sources with the same bias) and being smart about verifying what you see on social media before you pass it along as truth.
The larger problem I see, however, is that we as Americans are turning against each other. We are creating groups of “others” to be our enemy - homosexuals, cops, media, conservatives, liberals.
Before Friday’s protest at the Dawes County Courthouse, I heard from individuals who were upset that “they” dared to protest. Also on Friday, President Trump called the media in general the enemy of the American people. That flies in the face of our Constitution and what our Founding Fathers believed. They, too, had arguments with the press, but they recognized the importance of those early newspapers – which were far more biased than those of today. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would, if he had to chose, prefer newspapers without government than government without newspapers.
It seems we can no longer respectfully disagree with each other and work to find solutions through compromise. It’s now about winning at all costs, about crushing your enemy. That means we have to create enemies – even if that’s our fellow citizens. That’s a dangerous trend for America.
After Friday’s tweet, journalists around the world responded with the #nottheenemy hashtag. Media is not the enemy of the American people, but neither are our fellow citizens – whatever “other” group they may fall into. Let’s try to remember that and work to guarantee rights for everyone while finding solutions to our challenges through reasoned discourse and compromise.