“Speech is powerful. It’s the lifeblood of democracy, a precondition for the discovery of truth, and vital to our self-development. But speech is also dangerous. It can corrupt democracy, enable or incite crime, encourage enemies, and interfere with government.”
Those words were written Lawrence Tribe and Joshua Matz in their 2014 book on the Robert’s Court, Uncertain Justice. We see examples of their analysis before us each and every day.
Over the course of the last couple of years, I had the pleasure of dining in an intimate environment with Jamal Khashoggi. I always came away with new insights about the Middle East, and in particular, trends within Saudi Arabia. He had an insider’s perspective as he spoke truth to power from self-imposed exile in Virginia. Journalism today has become more dangerous. It has always been dangerous. A friend and Getty Images photojournalist, Chris Hondros, embedded with my units about ten times while I served in Iraq. Chris didn’t make it back from covering the Libyan conflict in 2011. Another colleague, Regis LeSommier, with Paris Match, has interviewed Bashar al Assad twice in the last few years. In order for the world to understand what is going on in dark corners of humanity, we need intrepid journalists willing to risk their lives in order to get the story.
However, the climate in the United States has gone from loss of confidence in public institutions, the media being one, to hostility in some circles. This has led to attacks on media organizations. Of course, journalists, and media organizations exhibit bias. All human beings do. But we should resist the urge to demonize journalists and the organizations they represent. Media organizations that have shifted from more objective, fact based reporting to opinion have done so based on market conditions. That’s what we, as Americans, have asked for. While we talk a good talk in terms of just wanting the news, neuroscientists have documented the effects of seeking self-affirming sources of information. We like it when we believe we are right. Reading or hearing a story that confirms our own preconceived narratives feels good.
FAV is happy to continue our coffee talk program that provides a forum for civil discussion about press freedom and other pressing First Amendment issues. If you would like to learn more about coffee talks or host one, please reach out. We would love to promote more opportunities for citizens to come together and explore ideas relevant in your community.
Yours in service,
Steve Miska and the FAV Team
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