We can’t take it for granted
The New York Times on Sept. 23 carried the text of a speech by publisher A. G. Sulzberger, given at Brown University, titled, “The Growing Threat to Journalism Around the World.” He documented how, in multiple countries, journalists are being threatened, harassed, thrown in jail without due process, intimidated, kidnapped, tortured and killed. He attributed it to surging nationalism, the legitimization of notions like fake news, a failure to stop anti-journalistic behaviors, even violent ones, and, even worse, condoning them, as our president has done on multiple occasions. Organizations like the Times invest in investigative reporting around the world to bring us the facts about what is happening in this and other countries. Investigative journalism doesn’t come cheap, especially when, in many countries, it requires bulletproof vests, armored cars and guards.
Sulzberger accused the president of undermining the legitimacy of the press and undermining citizens’ trust in news organizations. He recounted that the essential nature of a free press for democracy has been a bipartisan recognition until now. Ronald Reagan said: “There is no more essential ingredient than a free, strong and independent press to our continued success in what the founding fathers called our ‘noble experiment’ in self-government.” Freedom of the press is threatened in the U.S. and around the world.
I’m a strong believer in the importance of the free press. Several members of my family are, or have been, journalists – my sister Sara, now at Boston University, and formerly at The New York Times, where she did great education reporting; brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Carl and April Glassman, who started The Tribeca Trib, which was one of the few sources of local news for people in that area after the World Trade Center was brought down, and my nephew, Paul Schott (@paulschott), a staff reporter at Hearst Connecticut Media, who writes about business for several Connecticut papers. Recently, Paul has been covering Purdue Pharma, and we know how important that story is for all of us. These people happen to be family members, so it is personal. I want them all to be safe. And because we talk about what they do, I’ve had a window into their worlds and the meticulous care with which they report. Fake news is a catchy meme, but there’s nothing behind it except an empty shell.
Why a free press matters to universities
Tenure has been one of the cornerstones of modern universities. One of the rationales for tenure is that it provides academics the freedom without fear of reprisal to speak what they perceive as truth and to study difficult, sometimes unpopular, topics (consider the Department of Education’s recent singling out of UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University for a conference on Gaza last spring). In countries that have limited the free press, e.g., Turkey, Egypt and others, academics often have been targeted, along with journalists and others. When the free press is targeted, the freedom of ideas is not far behind. We, in academia, should be paying more attention and speaking out about what is happening. We should support the free press with our words and our actions. This morning, I made a donation to The Daily Tar Heel for investigative reporting.
The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.