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OPINION: The Working Press — neither friend nor enemy

I rarely try to stir up trouble these days, but good heavens, the press is not the enemy of the American public, no matter who says it is.

Yes, I'm biased. I worked for newspapers or wire services my whole career. I know reporters and editors and photographers. I never worked with one, never met one, who was an enemy of the people. I met many who made mistakes, sure. But their errors happened during good-faith efforts to report the news, and the mistakes were publicly corrected as quickly as possible. That's being human, not being an enemy of the people.

I'll tell you this, too. I don't think the press is the friend of the people. By press, I mean the working press — those who actually report, photograph and edit news. I'm not talking about "media,'' which includes all manner of opinion folks and partisan loudmouths, devious raconteurs and shills, even Russian bots. That's a whole other story.

All of those years I worked — and in the years since I've mostly retired but never lost interest in the news — I never considered myself either a friend or an enemy of the people. I thought of myself as one of the people.

See, people who actually work gathering and distributing the news are just members of the public who have made reporting and editing their life's work. We have families and bills to pay and movies to watch and hamburgers to grill and sidewalks to shovel and lawns to mow and leaves to rake, just like every other citizen. We're affected by government policies and court decisions just like every other citizen.

The taxes I used to write about when I covered the Legislature affected me, too. I owned a house, drove a car, sent my kids to public school, bought groceries and did all the other things that we tax in this state and country. When I covered court cases in Hughes County or even the state Supreme Court, I had to fight for a place to sit just like the rest of the public. I usually made sure to get to the courtroom early enough to nab a seat, but it seldom was a guarantee. Once, in fact, arriving late for a Supreme Court hearing on a major case, I sat on the floor of the Capitol rotunda with the rest of the overflow crowd and heard the arguments over speakers set up to make sure members of the public who couldn't fit into the courtroom could still participate in the public hearing. You don't get much more "member of the public" than that.

During my reporting career, I was sometimes the lone member of the public watching as the local school board or city commission put together its budget. Sitting there, I was a reporter, but I was a citizen, too. What the governing body decided impacted every citizen under its jurisdiction. Few people had time to sit through the meeting. I did. That was part of my job. And when the meeting ended, I tried to write a story or stories that helped other citizens, the readers, understand what had happened and how it would affect them.

It would have been great if every citizen in that jurisdiction had been at every meeting. I gather that happened in the New England town-hall days. These days, that level of participation simply doesn't happen. So reporters, representatives of the rest of the people, attend the meetings. That isn't being anyone's enemy, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Members of the working press are friends of free speech and the other guarantees in the First Amendment, and in all of the other amendments, too. We are friends of open government and the public's right to know. If we are enemies of anything, we are enemies of those who would limit public speech and distort the promise of a free exchange of ideas. We are enemies of those who would label unfavorable news reports as fake. Yes, I'm an enemy of those people.

Mostly, I'm just a citizen of this state and nation, worried about our future as free, educated, thoughtful people.

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