A reporter doing her job
” … the basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
— Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Virginia statesman Edward Carrington, 1787
A bold statement from the author of our Declaration of Independence, one of THE founding fathers, third president of the United States and a man who was stung by the press of the time as often as he was able to use it to his advantage.
Jefferson might not have imagined, 231 years ago, that reporters would someday be using their skills on air and online, as well as on paper, but his sentiment would still apply. Reporters do now what they did then. Among many other things, they keep those elected by the public accountable for the way in which they serve the public. They shine a light, they find out what the public is unable to see on its own, and they report that information. Good reporters ask questions. Lots of them. It is their job. Often those who would rather not step into that light just yet choose not to answer some questions, and that is their right. Reporters should, and will, continue asking.
Last week, White House officials told CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins she wasn’t allowed to keep asking. They told Collins she was not allowed to attend a presidential event in the Rose Garden, after she served as the television pool reporter (meaning she represented all TV networks at the time) during President Trump’s meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Her alleged offense? Collins asked “inappropriate” questions, according to the officials who banned her. Other reporters in the room at the time have said Collins was completely in line with protocol. What is more likely the case is that she was asking difficult questions. She was doing her job.
Here’s the thing about reporters. Attack one of us, you attack all of us. It doesn’t matter what opinions are expressed on the opinion pages of our publications or the opinion segments of our broadcasts.
When Collins was banned, Fox News issued this statement: “We stand in strong solidarity with CNN for the right to full access for our journalists as part of a free and unfettered press.”
Fox anchor Martha MacCallum took to Twitter to remind White House officials “It is wrong to ban members of the WH pool.”
CNN International anchor Hala Gorani made an important observation: “I’ve reported from many countries where reporters are banned from press events for not asking softball questions and the last thing I expected was for it to happen in the United States.”
There is a reason elected officials are sometimes referred to as public servants. They work for us. Reporters ask the questions — and the follow-up questions — they do because they work for us, too.
Someone in the White House wanted Collins to stop doing that, last week. Fortunately, she was surrounded by colleagues who not only supported her, but asked plenty of their own questions in the aftermath.
She’s also got plenty of backup from the founders of this country, so I will let them conclude for me:
“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
— Jefferson, in a letter to physician James Currie, 1786
“The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom in a state: it ought not, therefore, to be restrained in this commonwealth.”
— John Adams, Samuel Adams and James Bowdoin, Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1780
“A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both.”
— James Madison, in a letter to Kentucky statesman, 1822
Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org