“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that light; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter” Thomas Jefferson
Today at the Newseum, the screens at the entrance, which normally show the front pages of newspapers from across the country and around the world, are black. For this is the day the Newseum honors the journalists — reporters, photographers and news executives from around the world — who were killed in 2016 while covering the news. As Gene Policinski, the Chief Operating Officer at the Newseum noted “The journalists recognized on this memorial laid down their lives in their effort to serve the public, many of them continuing to work after being attacked or facing death threats “
The fourteen names added to the memorial today, bring the number of names memorialized to 2305. And today was chosen for the ceremony as it is the anniversary of the death of NPR photojournalist David Gilkey and NPR’s Afghan interpreter and fellow journalist, Zabihullah Tamanna, who were killed by the Taliban while covering the war in Afghanistan. A colleague of David’s recalled him explaining his work in this way: “It’s not just reporting. It’s not just taking pictures, it’s ‘Do those visuals, do the stories, do they change somebody’s mind enough to take action?’
The press — reporters, photographers, editors — they bring the news of the world into our homes every day — the provide us with information, photos and news reels that give us a bird’s eye view, regardless of whether the event took place around the corner or on the other side of the world.
They provide information — even in today’s internet age — that we could not gather ourselves without devoting an enormous amount of time to the task. And while we, the people, sometimes develop a love-hate relationship with the press, they are our eyes and ears every single day. They bring us the facts and it is up to each of us to determine what we do with them. They follow soldiers into war torn countries, bring us stories of horror and hope, remind us there is good and light in the world while sharing the darkest of places.
Today’s ceremony is made more poignant by the fact that freedom of the press is under fire here in our own country as public officials complain about “fake news”, resort to physical violence as happened in Montana last week, or work to make it more difficult for the press to garner the facts.
It is easy to express disdain for people we have never met and only know as a name on the byline or a short clip on the nightly news, but they are upholding one of the most precious freedoms America’s forefathers bequeathed to us: the freedom of the press.
“The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed” Thomas Jefferson