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Thursday, March 2, 2017

GIVE ME LIBERTY (OF SPEECH) ... OR GIVE ME (AND YOU) DEATH!

   An egomaniac that arrogantly tip-toed close to being a domineering, autocratic czar of the '90s Dallas Cowboys, even Jimmy Johnson knew the value of a free and robust press.
   In those days at Valley Ranch, Johnson would host a weekly "fireside chat." In his office. Sans notebooks or recorders. Just a group of reporters chewing the fat and talking shop, football, politics, movies - anything and everything - with the leader of the free world's favorite football team.
   America's Team.
   To me and my Fort Worth Star-Telegram co-beat writer Mike Fisher, to Ed Werder and Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News, and to Mickey Spagnola and Susie Woodhams of the Dallas Times Herald, it was a disarming, refreshing and enlightening forum. Despite each of us at times writing various unflattering stories about Johnson or his hair or his team, we never in our darkest dreams imagined being banned from the chats or labeled "fake news." Johnson might fume. He would purse his lips. But he knew that, ultimately, we were an asset to his kingdom.
   Why? Because although there was once a decadent "White House" in Valley Ranch just a Michael Irvin "skinny post" from Johnson's office, there is only one Donald Trump. And the leader of America's immeasurably more important team's irrational ambush on our free press is simultaneously alarming and dangerous.
   This - to be clear - isn't an attack on Trump. It's an attack on his attack. A reaction to his unscrupulous action.
   In the wake of our President labeling anything unflattering to him as "fake news", the White House recently banned legitimate news outlets from an off-camera "gaggle" - Washington, D.C.'s version of the "fireside chat". Trump subsequently blasted the mainstream media as "the enemy of the American people".
   Let that sink in: Because his thin-skinned, insecure ego cannot take scrutiny - much less criticism - The President of the United States would have you believe that Breitbart News is more credible, more fair and more balanced than The New York Times.
   I migrated into journalism because I was curious. Because I enjoyed looking at standard objects from unique angles. And because I cherished nothing more than educated, fact-based opinions on highly debated topics.
   Considering Trump's assault on free speech, seems the perfect time to remind that a free press works for you, the People. You have jobs. You have lives. You don't have time - or a credential - to go to press conference starring Trump or Mark Cuban or Dak Prescott. So the media is your conduit. It gets the As to the Qs you want asked. According to The Constitution, the media is allowed - encouraged, even - to probe, to question, to disagree.
   It's that freedom of the press that is vital part of America's checks and balances. It's our first line of defense against the erosion of Democracy. But Trump is trying to discredit it, as a captor would apply Duct Tape to its victim.
   He's an authoritarian, steamrolling toward dictatorship. No? I prefer to be fair and to, first and foremost, get the facts straight. After that we can worry about who was right and who was wrong. Just not sure Trump shares that vision and semblance of order.
   As a long-time writer in DFW, one of my favorite criticisms was being labeled a "hater." As in, "Damn Debbie Downer, go write someplace else if you hate the Cowboys so much." See, I'm a lifelong Cowboys fan that - deep down - painfully pulls for them to win every year, every game, every snap. But as a mainstream media reporter I was paid to be unbiased, to pursue with equal vigor neither stories positive nor negative. But, rather, the truth.
   The reporters at CNN or The Los Angeles Times have opinions, and - like you and I - they have a vote. But they can't afford to blur personal and professional, lest they be unemployed by sundown.
   Are there websites and publications pushing particular, transparent agendas? You betcha. But I still believe the mainstream media isn't among them. And you should as well. A player for the Washington Redskins isn't automatically an asshole. Any more than a newspaper writer or TV anchor that disagrees you is therefore and undeniably a buffoon.
   That's not fake news. It's flawed logic.


   A good, credible reporter lives comfortably in the safe space between carrying pompoms and carrying a pitchfork. In a memorable fireside chat moment, Johnson revealed his desired relationship with the media:
   "I don't expect you to help row the boat,"  he said, "but don't go out of your way to punch a hole in the bottom of it, either."
   When did I know I had penned a fair piece?When the home fans called me a "hater" and the opposing fans labeled me a "homer."
   I realize that Trump demonizing the press with his hollow, lazy, simpleton "fake news" catchphrase plays harmoniously to his fawning, nodding base that is teetering on becoming a cult. But I also recognize that the petty pigeon-holing of something so important - it is, after all, the First Amendment - sets an ominous tone.
   The other countries on this planet whose leaders have deemed the free press an "enemy": Venezuela, Burma, Cuba, China, Russia and North Korea. Is that really what Trump considers "good" company? State-run news agencies thrive in dictatorships, not democracies.
   Or else?
   Or else the good ol' US of A will deteriorate into North Korea.
   Those citizens - barred from a free press and beholden to only a single news outlet controlled by a singular voice - actually refer to their president (Kim Jong-un) as "Supreme Leader." Worse, they have been told brainwashed into believing that Jong-un's father and predecessor, Kim Jong-il, actually recorded a 300 the first time he picked up a bowling ball, and aced five holes en route to an 18-hole score of 34 in his first round of golf. And, of course, if you lived in the Soviet Union in 1980 you still haven't heard about the U.S.' "Miracle on Ice" upset of the Russian hockey team in the Winter Olympics.
   Just a hunch, but I'm guessing that in the USSR any state-run media account of the USA's remarkable gold-medal run was labeled ... say it with me ... "Fake news!"
   Ignorance isn't bliss. It's perilous.
   Look, we're all entitled to our own opinions. But we're not entitled to our own facts.
   The Onion is fake news.
   Warren Beatty's Oscars envelope is fake news.
   Lying is fake news.
   Perhaps it's time Johnson met Trump at Mar-a-Lago for a little fireside chat.

5 comments:

  1. I think this about covers it! Miss your writing, Richie.

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  2. I see Trump supports this policy! I don't understand where the truth is, hope to see more updates of yours!

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  4. Well, everyone thought that it's ridiculous and Trump will never win this race. But he did it. I can't say I supported him before of fully support now, but I thing he has guts. Maybe he will make good changes for America. As an ordinary gengo worker, I can't expect more.

    ReplyDelete