Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Editorial: Keep the sun shining on our officials

Your right to know what is going on with your government – from City Hall to the White House – is a cornerstone of a free republic. It is appropriate then to reflect on the defenders of that right at this time as America observes Sunshine Week March 12-18.

Roger Estlack, Editor

Some might say that the sunshine has been eclipsed somewhat over the last couple of months by the shadow of a larger than life personality that now leads this great nation. For those of us whose job it is to report on the goings on of government there are signs of trouble emanating from Washington.

Journalists are not unfamiliar with people taking exception to what they write. In fact, if you haven’t taken some arrows in your time, you probably haven’t done much as a reporter.

Your editor has been called many things in the last 21 years. Some of them can’t be repeated in a family publication. The funniest was this week when he was labeled a “Democrat.” But perhaps the most interesting came last month from the highest levels of the federal government… an enemy of the people.

That moniker came from President Donald J. Trump who has repeatedly labeled the press as “the enemy of the people” and derides media outlets he disagrees with as “fake news.”

There is, of course, an adversarial relationship between the press and those in positions of authority. This is nothing new and it is not limited to the national stage. It happens on the local level, and your editor has at times been at odds with different local officials to the point of even being lectured or ridiculed in public meetings by county commissioners, city aldermen, and school board members. It’s not fun, but you develop a thick skin and realize you’re doing your job when a public official squeals for having been called out for his actions.

The troubling thing about Mr. Trump is the level and intensity of his rhetoric. “Enemy of the people” is phrase that students of history know has been used by some pretty bad company… people like the Nazis, Lenin, Stalin, and other dictators.

If the president doesn’t like the press nosing around his business, calling the press “the enemy of the people” was probably not the wisest thing for him to do. Because now “the media” is going to be on him like stink on a cow patty. That his appointees and even the president himself can’t abstain from saying stupid things isn’t helping the administration either.

Now our conservative friends will say that CNN, The New York Times, and MSNBC are clearly biased against Republicans and are not the equivalent of The Clarendon Enterprise. And, they would say, that the president’s comments are against those leftist news organizations.

But truly you need to understand one thing… the First Amendment does not discriminate based on political persuasion. Freedom of the press covers The Washington Post, ABC News, and the newspaper you hold in your hands. And when a president starts labeling “the media” as “the enemy of the people,” then rest assured all media will – or should – lock arms to defend one another. If you need an example of that, you need to look no further than FoxNews’ Sheppard Smith defending a CNN reporter who was belittled by the incoming president earlier this year.

CNN is not fake news. The New York Times is not fake news. You may disagree with their editorial points of view, but these are organizations that generally uphold the highest standards of journalism.

The problem with our society today is that people will believe anything they read on social media and take it for face value. They follow “news” sites that simply espouse a political viewpoint. The right and the left have their chosen sources, and many people don’t take the time to read anything that doesn’t fit their world view. That’s fine. It’s all covered by the First Amendment. But not taking a balanced approach to news consumption is a large part of what has led to the extreme polarization of this country.

You have a right to know what’s going on with your government. That’s what Sunshine Week is about. The biggest defender of that right is not breitbart.com or World Net Daily. It is the traditional media – the often vilified “press” – that people love to hate. The big boys will hold the president’s feet to the fire – and even help bring him down if necessary, while the Enterprise and thousands of other hometown newspapers across this land will continue to shine the light on city councils, school boards, college boards, and county commissions.

Together we’ll fight in state legislatures and in Congress to keep government practices open so that you can see what your elected representatives are doing and find out what they are up to… even when they don’t want you to know.

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