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Perspective on truth, lies, respect and hate

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

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.

Bored yet? Many Americans would be, if they were forced to read the amendments to the U.S. Constitution. (Of course, we don’t believe that of our readers.) Americans have a lot to worry about these days, however.

Depending on which side of the political divide one resides, those concerns vary widely: fighting illegal immigration and building a wall, or ending separation of families at the border and finding solutions for Dreamers; increasing gun control, or protecting Second Amendment rights; solving climate change, or holding onto disbelief in this science and concern over economic challenges that result from addressing it; supporting open trade, or tariffs and trade wars; perceiving economic, racial and gender equality, or inequality; earning more money in better jobs, or holding on to large amounts of money inherited through family wealth or money already in one’s possession one way or another; affordable access to medical care, or affordable access to medical care (this one seems pretty bipartisan, doesn’t it?) The list could go on and on.

So really, they don’t have much time, most Americans, to worry about the way they receive information on all these important aspects of their lives. The path of least resistance for many of them is flipping on the TV and watching their cable news channel of choice, or flipping through Facebook and Twitter and seeing what their friends and acquaintances have found of interest in relation to civic awareness. But this may not be the best long-term solution for an informed voting public. Without better and more deliberate reporting on these issues, and citizens who wish to and are able to access that reporting, democracy will inevitably take a hit. Maybe a very big hit, one from which it cannot recover.

Still, the citizenry needs to believe it can trust, and feel respected by, the media that reports the news from which it draws its understanding of the news and its opinions. The current administration’s constant minimizing of and aggression toward the role of the free press in a democracy has created a divide between not only political sides, but also informational sides, fomenting an atmosphere where the public questions professional and conventional media and accepts tangential and unprofessional purveyors of information. This is another way democracy suffers.

But the American public will not feel sympathy for a media under attack, nor should they. It is up to those who report the news to maintain a well-defined code of ethics that gives them credibility with consumers of information. Of all the groups under attack now, the free press should be the most prepared to deal with verbal abuse and constant scrutiny. 

Any errors made in reporting should be acknowledged and corrected as soon as they are revealed, and the truth should be the only standard for reporting on all issues. It is up to journalists to convince their readers/viewers/listeners that they do strive to reach the goal of honest and true reporting in all the work they do.

That said, those who oppose the free press, or any other faction of our society, should not resort to physical violence to express their frustration. The goal should be to find ways to resist the opposition (whatever that may be) with some measure of humanity, taking advantage of the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech. Americans may not like the news they see or hear but they should not hold that against those who report it. 

In short, don’t shoot the messenger.

To think more about free speech and a free press, read Nadine Strossen’s book, “Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship.” Strossen was the president of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1991 to 2008, taking over from this newspaper’s late board member, Cornwall’s Norman Dorsen. 

Or, just Google “hate speech” and be stunned by just how much is written about this aspect of public discourse right now.