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Congress need not apply

The press and politics, now there is a conundrum for you.

Once two proud organizations, historically at odds for the right reasons, both now seem to be headed in the wrong direction.

The press is becoming more biased every day while abusing the constitutional rights given to them in the First Amendment. And Congress, who continues to put much more emphasis on party work over the people’s work, not only dividing their own political body, but contagiously infecting our citizenry into a partisan frenzy, as well.

On April 27, 1961, President John F. Kennedy addressed the American Newspaper Publishers Association. As I read the entire text of his remarks, I realized how far the press and national politics has drifted from their responsibilities.

Kennedy said, “Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive… Our press was protected by the First Amendment — the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution — not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply ‘give the public what it wants’ — but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.”

Can you imagine Presidents Donald Trump or Joe Biden or leaders of the House or Senate saying that today?

Kennedy went on, “And it means, finally, that government at all levels must meet its obligation to provide you with the fullest possible information outside the narrowest limits of national security — and we intend to do it.”

He said, “It was early in the Seventeenth Century that Francis Bacon remarked on three recent inventions already transforming the world: the compass, gunpowder and the printing press. Now the links between the nations first forged by the compass have made us all citizens of the world… the evolution of gunpowder to its ultimate limit has warned mankind of the terrible consequences of failure. And so it is to the printing press — to the recorder of man’s deeds, the keeper of his conscience, the courier of his news — that we look for strength and assistance, confident that with your help man will be what he was born to be: free and independent.”

These days, I hear constant criticism of our representatives in Congress as well as the talking heads in the media. And, generally, I am in full agreement and believe the answer to both broken systems is to find new people to replace the ones currently in politics and the media. We need good people who will once again stand up to their responsibilities in an honest and forthright manner.

As a former community newspaper publisher, we were always looking for “good” people who had a clear understanding of the responsibilities of government and journalism. That got me to thinking: Would I hire any federal politicians today to be in the newspaper business?

The answer is absolutely not.

Are they honest? Do they make promises they can’t keep? Can they meet a deadline? Can they work as a team? Can they get along with their fellow employees? Do they provide excellent customer service? Do they respond to all inquiries in a timely manner? Do they publicly acknowledge when they make a mistake?

So, Congress, when you finally call it quits in Washington, you need not apply for work at a community newspaper, at least at one that respects their responsibilities and their readers. I suggest you go to work for a cable news network, many of which harbor the same bias and disgust you have for people with different partisan beliefs.

Folks, Democracy needs a fair and honest press, and the press needs to fairly and honestly report on government.

Our Founders had it right when they granted freedom to the press. Kennedy had it right when, representing government’s point of view, he said of the press, “… to be the recorder of man’s deeds, the keeper of his conscience, the courier of his news — that we look for strength and assistance, confident that with your help man will be what he was born to be: free and independent.”

My favorite part of any newspaper is the opinion page, the place to publicly debate, knowing debate leads to better understanding, which can lead to compromise, which can lead to action, unlike we see in our nation’s capital these days.

In that light, I ask you to support your local community newspaper that is working hard to inform you, and yes, will occasionally upset you, and that’s OK. Along with everything they do, they remain government’s watchdog, and occasionally must do a little barking to get our attention, which is OK, too.

Greg Awtry is the former publisher of the Scottsbluff (Neb.) Star-Herald and Nebraska’s York News-Times. He is now retired and living in Hubbard Lake. Greg can be contacted at gregawtry@awtry.com.

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