• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

Here’s Johnny!

That pesky, important First Amendment

I was going to pen 700 or so words that would magically heal the wounds caused by what came before, during and after the June 26 special election. In fact, I was two-thirds of the way there before events intervened.

Maybe next week. I’m pretty sure I can wear my serious face two weeks in a row.

On Friday, June 29, a coward with a grudge against an Annapolis, Md. newspaper for covering his criminal behavior walked into the newsroom and murdered five people, and I changed high horses.

Now, my aim is to write 752 words reminding folks that the men and women in my profession are not the enemy of America.

That description of “the media” is President Trump’s, by the way. He’s delivered it many times since he began campaigning for office, most recently in a rally three days before the Annapolis murders. There’s no evidence those words were ringing in the ears of the Annapolis murderer, but I do blame the president for demonizing the free press and making the work of journalists more difficult.

It’s what dictators do, for one thing, but that’s a subject for another day.

In 1791, the Bill of Rights was adopted, the First Amendment of which reads like this:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Our founders, who by all indications had studied what worked and didn’t in other countries, knew that a vigorous, free press was vital to a democracy. They knew that journalists, being human, would make mistakes, but also that the people, be they members of the media or ordinary folks upset about something, must have the right of free speech. That approach has served America pretty well for nearly 227 years.

On the subject of mistakes, readers of the Sun should know that I have made my share (perhaps more than my share, some might say).

When I learn about my whoopsies, when possible, I apologize to the person or persons in question – and write a correction. Sometimes a clarification gets the job done; those are less embarrassing.

I hate making mistakes, but suspect I have probably not made my last.

There are other avenues available to those unhappy with members of the media. Folks can call or email us or write a letter to the editor, or – gack – stop reading us or listening to us or watching us.

We can also be sued, though I’m certainly not encouraging this route, nor the one in which folks stop reading the Sun.

The point I’m trying to make is that the media is accountable.

Dear Readers who’ve witnessed me play the Veteran card multiple times may be surprised to know that I am as proud of my work in TV, radio and newspaper journalism as I am of my six-plus years in the Navy. The chief reason this is so is that I believe that seeking and telling the truth to listeners, watchers and readers is important. It’s also fun – I love telling a good story, and meeting interesting people along the way.

In Lexington, back in 1845, some readers of Cassius Clay’s “True American” weren’t particularly fond of the views expressed in that new anti-slavery newspaper. (In those days, the dividing line between straight news and editorializing was often blurred or non-existent.) Soon after the cousin of Henry Clay began publishing the paper, he began receiving death threats, armed himself, and barricaded the armored doors of his Lexington office.

Two small cannons also helped dissuade people who thought he didn’t have a right to publish his views. Point is, there have always been dissatisfied news consumers. Also, that I have two very small cannons in my office.

But seriously, folks – if you have a problem with an article or editorial, please tell us why. Was there a factual mistake? Did we not use attribution? Did we not seek the proverbial “other side” of the story?

Sadly, the most persistent critics of journalists rarely offer specifics. That would take time, and wouldn’t allow them to quickly slime those who don’t parrot their views. Most important, though, is that approach doesn’t help us do our jobs better.

We need specifics, not name-calling, or sweeping statements, or, God forbid, another mass murder in a newsroom.

Happy July 4th, by the way.

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