With the Thanksgiving holiday now officially passed, many of us continue to reflect upon what we are thankful for including at home, at work and in society at large. Those who arrived in American for the first time in 1620 famously gave thanks for their safe passage and a life free from religious and governmental persecution. That freedom – of speech, religion and the press – would, nearly 150 years later as the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, become a cornerstone of what makes this country great.
In recent days that freedom of the press, in particular within the White House, has been aggressively challenged as never before. Press passes have been threatened with one briefly taken away. The courts have been asked to intervene as the Oval Office indicates it will continue the practice unless certain rules are followed. We the people, meanwhile, are divided along political lines on this issue as we are on many others. But should we be? After all, our press is what helps separate us from dictatorships and tyranny.
The White House has, interestingly enough, called for decorum and I am in agreement, although it needs to come from both behind and in front of the pressroom podium. Elected officials must understand that they are beholden to those who elected them. They are going to be asked tough questions and should answer them with transparency and professionalism. By the same token, journalists need to ask those same tough questions without grandstanding. That’s not to say they should take ‘no’ for an answer but, rather, know when to dig-in in the public interest and when it is time to move on.
From the Pentagon Papers to Watergate to the bringing down of Kwame Kilpatrick, the Fourth Estate – the media – has, more often than not, served us well in uncovering the truth. It is an institution under fire by some but one that should be respected by all. Agendas are real and do play a role from left to right, yet, I would argue that we should all be thankful for the press – as a watchdog, as a seeker of checks and balances and as a democratic institution our forefathers so famously envisioned.