Here's Johnny - C'mon, at least return your calls!
Sorry, Dear Readers, the laugh ratio is gonna be a little low this week. However, I hope there are one or two chuckles in the following text, if only to demonstrate a line from one of my favorite books - about how as long as you can still laugh, you're not whipped. I was listening to National Public Radio's aptly titled Weekend Edition last weekend when I heard a report about the rotten things going on in Venezuela. A reporter for Reuter's news service talked about the latest protests involving food shortages and the Venezuelan president's refusal to accept help from other nations. The interviewer asked, "How is the government responding to this? Do they even respond to queries by reporters, for example, by the international press? Do they even bother to address these issues like, for example, the march yesterday?" The reporter replied, "I think I've been here six years now, and I don't think I've had a single response from the government. Every time we do a story, which is multiple times a day, we often send an email to the government saying would you like to comment and so on. I think I've had a single response in six years. The government does not talk about this." The following day, I read an article by Louisville Courier-Journal political reporter and columnist Joe Gerth about another administration that doesn't answer questions from journalists. The article featured quotes from several veteran Frankfort-based and other reporters who talked about how the Bevin Administration rarely responds to requests for interviews or even statements. In fact, they rarely respond at all. And in Washington, D.C., the President of the United States has declared war on the free press, calling journalists "The enemy of the American people." Aw shucks, lil' ol' me? Honorably discharged, two-time Navy Achievement Medal-winning, lil' ol' me? There are plenty of things wrong with what many people refer to as "the media," but asking tough questions of authority figures (one might call some of them authoritarian figures) isn't one of them. Ladies and gentleman, to paraphrase the words of someone who despises a free press, a free press is one of the things that makes America great. Our First Amendment is one of the things that makes America a better place to live than Venezuela, but a free press isn't as effective when our elected leaders don't have the courage to respond to reporters' queries. The Bevin Administration and its allies say the governor prefers to go straight to the people through social media and other outlets. That's all well and good - President Reagan was a master at that. However, when a governor or president or foreign dictator doesn't respond to follow-up questions from people with the training and institutional knowledge needed to fully illuminate an issue, there's a problem. Hey, I'm not pretending one has to be a rocket scientist to be a journalist. Indeed, in television news, it could be argued that an abundance of gray matter is a handicap -- that covering nothing but crime, crashes, fires and weather can be a bit frustrating to a reasonably intelligent person. (Nudge nudge, wink wink.) However, knowing how to sort through a government budget or a case file - knowing how to separate the wheat from the chaff and tell the resulting story in a concise, accurate manner - is an acquired skill. I do have good news to report on the local front. In my (gasp) three years here, I can't recall of a single elected official who hasn't responded to an inquiry from yours truly. (And trust me, whoever said there's no such thing as a stupid question hasn't heard some of mine.) But, our two mayors and judge-executive, our council members and county magistrates, and all their appointees and employees, have treated me - and thus the readers of The Sun - with respect. Reading about how leaders in Venezuela and Washington, D.C. and Frankfort treat journalists is depressing - but it's also the sort of thing that steels one's spine. The Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke wrote, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Too dramatic? Perhaps. So how about this from a great novel and movie: Prewitt's response in From Here to Eternity when he's told that if he'd just box on the Army team, he wouldn't be in so much trouble. "I know where I stand. A man don't go his own way, he's nothing." Besides, it's impolite not to return phone calls.