Thomas Jefferson once said, “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
Throughout history, journalism has been put under duress. Today, as we watch week after week as Donald Trump attacks the media, shouting “fake news” from his pulpit and his Twitter account, the need for a free press is stronger than maybe ever before.
Journalism under Donald Trump has clearly become a more dangerous occupation. In 2017, 47 journalists were killed while covering stories and 326 journalists were imprisoned for doing their jobs. In 2018, 54 journalists lost their lives. Today with online media being so powerful online journalists, including bloggers and vloggers, have become the victims of harassment, attacks, and have even been killed for their work. The price of protecting our right to freedom of expression and information has become extremely high and in some cases deadly.
When journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in Turkey on October 2, 2018, I was heartbroken by our countries response or I should say lack of response. Mr. Khashoggi repeatedly risked his life to shine a light on the wrongdoings of the government of his native country, Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi lived in America. He received an Einstein Visa and had called Virginia home since 2008. He was employed by the Washington Post as a journalist. Donald Trump took no steps to get justice for the Khashoggi family because he wasn’t willing to jeopardize billions in arms sales to the Saudi’s. Trump excused his lack of action by saying Khashoggi was “not an American.”
Despite what Donald Trump told the world the United States had an obligation to the Khashoggi family. The Constitution protects any person on US soil no matter of their status. Trump should have placed sanctions on the Saudi’s and made it more than clear that there would be no arms deals until Khashoggi’s killers were brought to justice. Khashoggi’s death made many journalists question if their lives were just simply seen as expendable.
It is the bravery and powerful words of writers like Khashoggi that made me decide at a very young age that I wanted to be a journalist. By the age of 8, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I always carried a notebook and had a pencil tucked behind my ear. I wanted to tell people’s stories and in my own way change the world.
My grandmother always told me that “knowledge is power” The more we know the more we are capable of, so at the age of 8, I began investigating everything from why my neighbors horse made such a ruckus some nights (it was because of an uninvited black snake trying to get to the chicken eggs) and where Mrs. Hutchinson’s cat would disappear to during the day. I can’t reveal the answer to that one because I promised Mr. Whiskers I’d protect his privacy.
I investigated the world around me and those experiences became the launching pad of my journalism career. Through my four years of college, I grew as a writer and a human being. I discovered the true meaning of the word empathy.
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While at Fairmont State University I learned the Journalist’s Creed, which was written by Walter Williams in 1914. I memorized what I felt to be the wisest words of the creed.
“I believe in the profession of journalism…I believe that the journalism which succeeds best — and best deserves success — fears God and honors Man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.”
It was during my college years that I truly realized what our country would become without a free press. Without a free press, there is no real check on the activity of our government. An informed public is key to a functioning democracy. An unrestricted flow of information keeps a check on our leaders abuse of power. A country is not free without a free press. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are indispensable human rights.
Freedom of speech and expression have been at the heart of each and every successful movement for social change throughout our country’s history. Silencing the press silences our rights as human beings.
So today, a battle wages on between the individual sitting in the highest and most powerful office in the US and the free press. Donald Trump’s constant attacks on the media are strategically designed to undermine our country’s confidence in the press and to cause them to question the facts they are publishing, especially those concerning the decisions of the president. His accusations of “fake news” have also resulted in violence and threats of violence to journalist across the country.
Despite Trump’s attacks, journalism today reaches unprecedented numbers of individuals. We must never forget that the free press is a watchdog over our government and its leaders and without it we would lose our democracy. A free press is what allows us to keep up and participate in the decisions made by our governing leaders. Without the free press, American citizens would be making uninformed decisions.
The Constitution’s first amendment is only 45 words long, but it protects our right to free speech and to be rightfully informed.
“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.”
These are rights we should never take for granted and we must always remember that without the free press we are no longer truly free.