Our democracy is founded on checks and balances – and not just among the branches of government.
Our founders enshrined the freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights for a reason – we can’t have a functioning democracy without it.
That’s why last week the Newseum marked its annual “day without news,” to remind Americans what our country would be like without the free press.
Journalists’ entire job is to ask tough questions, and to challenge powerful interests – while in church we comfort the afflicted, journalists afflict the comfortable.
Reporters put their safety, and sometimes their lives, on the line, whether it’s covering floods and hurricanes at home, or traversing the globe to bring us the stories of our troops.
We depend on reporters in Ohio and around the world to both bring us the stories that impact our day-to-day lives, and tell the stories that might not otherwise be told.
And supporting a vibrant, independent, proactive press corps has rarely been more important.
Yet too often we are seeing reporters restricted, vilified, attacked and even physically threatened – all for doing their jobs.
Today brought news that some people in this building are trying to bar reporters from asking senators questions. This is outrageous – if Senators can’t handle tough questions from reporters about their plans to take healthcare away from millions of Americans, they should change the bill – not restrict the reporters.
Or remember that Oval Office meeting with Russian officials? We have all seen the pictures, but the photos that ran on front pages around the country weren’t taken by American journalists.
They were taken by Russian state media, the remnants of the old Soviet propaganda machine.
The American press was barred from that meeting.
When you hide from the press, you hide from the American people.
On November 16th a group representing more than a dozen journalism organizations sent a letter to President-elect Trump – they wrote, “this isn’t about access for the press itself, it’s about access for Americans in diverse communities across the country.”
Having a strong, independent White House and Congressional press corps isn’t just important for those reporters’ own stories – think about the signal it sends to mayors and city councilmembers and state legislators. If the President or Members of Congress do not have to be accountable, why should they answer to the local papers?
It’s not just Washington reporters who are vital to our democracy.
It’s the reporters in Ohio telling the stories and bringing us the faces of the opioid epidemic that is devastating families and communities.
It’s Ohio editorial pages highlighting how important the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is to our drinking water and our state’s economy.
It’s journalists in every corner of Ohio highlighting the devastation that the proposed budget would have on our schools and our housing and our rural communities.
We answer to journalists because they are the eyes and ears of the people we serve. If you can’t stand before reporters and answer the tough questions about your positions, then maybe you ought to rethink those positions.
We need diligent, courageous reporters to dig up their stories, independent editors to put them on front pages, and media organizations willing to hold the powerful accountable.
The American people have a right to know what is going on in their own government, from the White House down to the city council office.
As Thomas Jefferson said, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
That’s as true today as it was at the time of our country’s founding.
To all the reporters out there: thank you.
Editor’s Note: Following reports on June 13 that reporters’ access to conduct interviews in Senate hallways would be restricted, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) took to the Senate floor to support freedom of the press.
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