La Conner Weekly News - Your independent hometown award-winning newspaper

By Ken Stern 

Musings – on the editor’s mind


September 9, 2020

Consider three “P” pillars of our representative government: the postal service, the presidency and the press. The institution of the presidency is the youngest, not appearing until the U.S. Constitution emerges in 1787. The postal service is older than the United States, created by the Continental Congress in 1775. Far older than both in North America is the free press, which was vocal before Benjamin Franklin was a Philadelphia printer in the mid-1700s.

The free press of Franklin’s day was not the Philadelphia Inquirer and certainly not the New York Times or the Washington Post. It was not Fox News or the three broadcasting networks. And it was definitely not Google or Facebook or Apple News.

No, the free press in 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence, was more like the La Conner Weekly News than the Seattle Times or the Skagit Valley Herald. In a time of small towns and small printing presses, dirt roads and horse and wagon transportation, the free press was almost certainly a cloud of Weekly News-sized gnats buzzing around the heads of powerful people in or out of government.

The press then was as buzzing and bothersome and as argumentative and disruptive as Fox’s talking heads are today.

The free press is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution, the only economic entity named in the document. Why is that? It was not because newspapers covered floods or fires or burglaries, though they did. The free press was not protected from government regulation for reporting the daily facts of life in the community, though it did.

The press was protected from government control precisely because it was pesky and called out the wrongdoings of those in power. A hundred years later an editor and poet wrote newspapers “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”

In our comfortable, 21st century lives, many want a newspaper that is a country club or church newsletter. They want to read of graduations, weddings, anniversaries and reunions. Nothing would please then more than photos of dogs running on beaches and little girls splashing in puddles. But that type of reporting does not need first amendment protection.

A newspaper that assesses, analyzes, concludes and shares its opinion with its readers, and in doing so is critical of the status quo, and in doing so challenges both those in charge, be it is the school district or the White House, is a newspaper that is going to displease people.

Publishers who honestly state their positions rile up readers. Editors do this because, along with truth, they love the community. They do so because more than insisting on being right, they are concerned with the future direction of their country. They do so because their job is to sniff out corruption, whether in small or large doses and to shout “watch out” whether a few or the masses want to pay attention to impending train wrecks and national, unnatural disasters conceived and made by people who crash trains together, most often on purpose.

Some will blame the messenger that brings bad news. But when the news is bad whether the messenger brings it or not, blame the pesky publisher who insists on telling you the emperor wears no clothes, especially when you argue how handsome and well-dressed the fat naked man on the throne is.

At some point folks have to choose between the faked-clothed emperor and the press pointing his nakedness out. If enough people pick the emperor over the press, the people may wind up with naked emperors but no clothing critics.

As always in a democracy, the people choose who they want. They are not choosing what is right.


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