Freedom of the press isn’t free
At home and overseas, American journalists are engaged in a bitter battle for the truth. In some cases, these reporters’ rights are infringed upon, and their Constitutionally granted access to public information is denied. In others, they’re forced away from the locations where news is being made, unable to get close enough to report on the major world events unfolding mere blocks away. And some brave souls even dare enter hostile territory across the globe in their never-ending search to shine sunlight on those dark corners of the world where evils might otherwise go unnoticed.
What these journalists are facing on their quests for truth runs the gamut from simply being told, “No, you can’t see these public documents,” to tear gas, handcuffs and a night in the slammer, or even an extended stay in jail. In some extreme cases, these quests for truth end up costing reporters their lives.
It’s easy to see how awful the case of New Hampshire native James Foley of Rochester is; the photojournalist was captured in Syria — the most dangerous place in the world to be a journalist — in 2012, and videos released Tuesday by terrorist group ISIS purport to show Foley’s beheading. And, it’s easy to point fingers at who’s to blame; ISIS has taken credit for the murder, which they say is in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes. Foley gave his life in pursuit of the truth, and as fellow journalists, we salute him as a hero fallen in the line of duty.
But when it comes to the situations within our own borders, the line between right and wrong gets a little more hazy. In Ferguson, Mo., stories seem to emerge daily about journalists being forced away from demonstrations, hit with tear gas, and being handcuffed without charges, some spending the night in jail as they try to cover the case and aftermath of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Pulitzer Prize-winner James Risen is facing jail time of his own, as his lengthy battle to protect his source in the 2006 story he wrote about the United States’ attempts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. Risen has said he’d rather go to jail than reveal his source, something any journalist worth his or her salt should be able to say; far fewer are actually forced to make that choice, and fewer still stick by their principles when push comes to shove.
The Obama administration has been called one of — if not the — least friendly administrations to journalists in the history of the United States; the Associated Press reported that they’ve faced more restrictions in access to federal agencies than ever before. It’s a dark time to be a journalist, to be sure. All we can do is keep trying to let the sunlight in.