In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.
– Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, regarding New York Times Co. v United States
The movie, The Post, brings to light the events leading up to the printing of the Pentagon Papers by the Washington Post. The New York Times had initially printed a portion of the Pentagon Papers, a study by the Department of Defense that reviewed the political and military involvement in Vietnam leading to the Vietnam War. Released by Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the report, the Pentagon Papers showed that Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson lied to the public and to Congress about the War.
After the New York Times published on its front page a portion of the report, Nixon claimed executive authority and slapped the newspaper with an order to suspend publication of the classified report. The Washington Post received a copy of the report and then made the decision to print the Papers. The Supreme Court had to make a decision on the constitutionality of freedom of the press, and handed down a 6-3 decision in favor of the press, allowing the continued publication of the report.
Today, with the current President’s call to review libel laws anytime something is printed that Donald Trump doesn’t agree with, it is more important than ever to truly understand the nature of newspapers and the protections they provide the citizens of the United States.
But it is not just at the national level that this freedom is important. The Hays Free Press, like The Washington Post, depends on this freedom to cover local stories, to dig into any problems and to provide the public with a glimpse into the myriad of issues that local cities, as well as the county and school district, deal with every day.
Taxes, roads, health clinics, education, utilities … all of these issues directly affect the citizens of Hays County. It is so important to have an institution, the newspaper, objectively look at these issues, attend the meetings, and present the stories to the public.
Local reporters are close to the story. The editor and publisher, as well as the entire staff, reside here, see the mayors, the city managers, the principals at the grocery store, at the restaurants, on the street. While we can all be friends, it is important – as shown in the movie The Post – that friendship and doing the job for the public are separate issues.
The Pentagon Papers and ensuing stories dealt with deception in the government. But freedom of the press does not just deal with deception. The press is a substitute for the citizens at local meetings. There is no way that residents can attend every meeting of every governmental entity.
However, newspaper reporters are there all the time, to provide residents with all the facts so that they can be better citizens.
It is more important that reporters have access to all levels in local government, to ask questions, to follow up on presentations at meetings.
Because, while there might be no indication of corruption, the eyes of the people on the government are a restraint, a modifier when it comes to the inner workings and spending of cities, schools and counties.
Hugo Black was a strong defender of the First Amendment and said, “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”
But to add to that, both locally and nationally, only a free and unrestrained press can help to prevent corruption in government.
The press serves as the eyes for the people. As such, the press and the people need a little light when looking through the halls of government. Only the freedom to question and discuss allows the light to shine.