When elected officials declare they will not speak to the media or only to certain members and not others, it raises red flags in our republic.
There is no law requiring elected officials to speak to the press. Legally speaking, officials could hide behind closed doors, only coming out to debate and vote in public meetings.
But officials need the public to support their decisions after enactment and, if so attempted, to get re-elected when their terms end.
Officials need the press more than the press needs them — we have so much other news to cover in a day — which is why office holders are more than willing to contact the media to get their word out about their policies.
The press spends its time delving into public policy and questioning every use of tax dollars so regular citizens can go about their days and occasionally read a newspaper or watch a news show to check in on what we’ve discovered.
Effectively, the press is a proxy for the public so government doesn’t create evil in the shadows or destroy democracy in the dark.
When elected officials make statements on policy, the people can rely on officials and the government agencies they lead to explain how those policies affect them, yet Americans have been instinctively distrustful of officials and government since we overthrew the yoke of the last royal government who told us not to question authority.
Or the people can instead rely on the judgment of independent and unbiased observers, i.e., journalists, to explain what policies mean, what laws will do and to offer opinions so citizens can judge their merits. Hopefully, citizens rely on more than one source, just an medical patients seek second and third opinions on diagnoses. We ask for outside opinions about our body’s health, so why not also rely on multiple views for the health of the body politic?
Fleeing from the press is an act of cowardice; all but ensuring an official’s policies will be questioned and likely doomed to fail in the court of public opinion.
The phrase “the official refused to comment” repeated once too often is inscribed on the tombstone of many political careers. Voters interpret that sentence to mean the official is untrustworthy and does not deserve to have their policies supported nor get another vote come Election Day.
Picking and choosing which media outlet to speak with is selective cowardice and perhaps even more foolish as all reputable journalists report on it.
The Founding Fathers knew the vital importance the media played in the proper functioning of the republic, which is why freedom of the press was among the first five rights enshrined in the First Amendment.
Thomas Jefferson wrote to Edward Carrington in 1787, “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.”
In a war between the media and politicians, the press always gets the last word. There are no term limits for newspapers, no election days for journalism. The press buys ink by the barrel, newsprint by the pound and has reported on the rise and fall of officials on the American continent since 1690.
As long as the press remains honest with our readers, listeners and viewers, the press remains in office, serving the public good. Officials who ignore the press or refuse to speak to journalists do so at their own political peril. BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS