Monday, July 10, 2006

Pressing Issue ...

"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."
— The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it."
— Edward R. Murrow

Last week, standing in my kitchen, as we readied too much food for my 4th of July party guests, Doreen mentioned that I hadn't blogged about the whole Bill Keller/New York Times/SWIFT disclosure brouhaha that had erupted the week before.

I was keeping up with the story. I was just too busy staining my deck and grocery shopping to put words to screen here.

But tonight, I watched "Good Night, and Good Luck." again, this time listening to the George Clooney/Grant Heslov commentary, and then watched the featurette on the disc which contained Murrow's quote, above. And that made me think of the attack Bill Keller has endured from the Right that is grappling for any rallying point as we race toward the mid-term elections.

This isn't a political rant. Not really. This is a discussion about the First Amendment from someone who used to work for the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times and other news organizations. No, my news jobs weren't of the hard-hitting variety, but there's no way to work in a newsroom and not absorb the spirit of the press, the responsibility that comes of being the collective gatekeeper of information.

I remember the night Gacy was executed. The Tribune, ever-mindful of its "Dewey Defeats Truman" gaffe, had a package ready to go but we held the press run until we received confirmation of his death. I remember the newsroom that night, almost in suspended animation. And I remember the phone ringing. And I remember the room coming back to life.

To this day, when a big story breaks, my news pals and I get on the phone to discuss the events of the day. News infects your blood. And time away is no antibiotic. There is no cure. News is chronic.

So, like any good current or former journalist, I subscribe to Romenesko, the compendium of all things news. And today, there were several stories, still, about the New York Times "flap," if that's what you want to call it. Editors from other newspapers coming to Keller's defense. Not all of them agreed with Keller's decision, but as Descartes would paraphrase, they would defend to the death his right to publish.

The GOPers are all circling the wagons, boiling the oil and plucking the feathers. But at the end of the day (or the month, or whenever this story dies down), the Administration's biggest gripe with the New York Times is that it didn't acquiesce to demands to spike the story.

It is no secret to the terrorists that we're tracking their banking transactions. George has been talking about that tactic since the smoke still hung over lower Manhattan.

So why all the presidential blather? Why the actual finger-wagging? I think Bill Keller is a little too old to be scolded.

I believe he did the right thing. And I don't believe he made his decision lightly. But Murrow's quote is an important one: When we all begin to blithely follow (or are silenced), the soul of America dies. The American Revolution happened for a reason, remember? And even then, there were those in this country who were aligned with the British, causing civil rifts.

I shudder, I truly do, that we're headed toward the same fate. Now, more than ever, we need the press, all press, to keep the public informed of the goings-on in the White House and Congress. And I would assert that no matter what animal, elephant or donkey, held the highest office. It's not about being anti-Bush, it's about being against any politician who abuses his office and attempts to wrest too much power from the delicate system of checks and balances.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We hardly need to be reminded that we are living in an age of confusion—a lot of us have traded in our beliefs for bitterness and cynicism or for a heavy package of despair, or even a quivering portion of hysteria. Opinions can be picked up cheap in the market place while such commodities as courage and fortitude and faith are in alarmingly short supply. -- Edward R. Murrow, NPR, 1951

11:02 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Hi, Beth. I'm sitting here watching Bruce on WTTW, singing "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live" while reading your spot-on post on the fifth estate. I finally looked up your blog -- the Boss reminded me -- after you mentioned the title at the show in Chicago. I enjoyed meeting you and your mom. And I enjoy your writing.

- Matt
(guy standing in front of you in the pit with the pointless backpack)

10:58 PM  

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