In a serendipitous meeting of experiences this last month, I write to pay tribute to the news. Yeah, I know. News organizations can be obnoxious. They can recycle the same tired stories. They tend to lean toward the dramatic and dark, and not all of them are legit. But still – for our democracy to survive, the free press is an absolute necessity.
You may have noticed:
Women are speaking. A lot of them.
And who are they turning to? Writers. The free press.
The success of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter? The free press.
With the click of a button, a single needed voice can spread like lightening across continents.
We need the media. We need their fact checking. We need whistle blowers because we humans have a tendency to let power and money and status corrupt our souls.
Here’s where my serendipitous free press journey began:
Last month I began reading NFL quarterback Steve Young’s memoir, QB: My Life Beyond the Spiral (and excellent read, football fan or not.) I enjoyed many things about the book, including Young’s striving to do “the right thing.” I was struck by his photographic memory and ability to memorize over a hundred plays and know where each man should be on each of those plays. I appreciated how he wrote about his near-debilitating anxiety before each high stakes game.
I noted that the book was co-written with New York Times best-selling author, and journalist, Jeff Benedict. This is common practice: we turn to journalists to help write our stories.
You know what Young suffered a lot of? Concussions. (Seven!) After the last one, he never played again.
“As I finished writing these pages, the NFL’s top health and safety official admitted for the first time that there is a link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease found in dozens of retired players. CTE is real.”
And here came the serendipitous part. While reading Young’s memoir, I began the brain unit with my Anatomy and Physiology class. A student mentioned we should watch the 2015 movie, Concussion, with Will Smith. A movie I finally viewed this weekend.
I began researching the history of the film and was soon watching the 2013 PBS special League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis. I was riveted, disgusted, up in arms. Oh sure, I knew something about concussions and the NFL’s reticence to connect a link to obvious: repeated trauma to the head is NOT GOOD FOR YOUR BRAIN.
But what was most disconcerting was the way Nigerian-American neuropathologist doctor (with several more advanced degrees,) Bennet Omalu, was treated. He was shunned, threatened, banned from presenting, asked to retract his findings. Basically the NFL tried to completely discredit and destroy him until finally, the research could not be denied.
I didn’t know this story until it was written about.
Enter two brothers. Journalists. Investigative reporters Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada. Steve has a Pulitzer Prize for reporting in Iraq. Mark broke the Barry Bonds steroid scandal. Going up against the NFL, which surpassed $13 BILLION in revenue in 2016? “It cost us everything,” the brothers say.
Did they report anyway? They sure did.
This post really isn’t about football or sports (of which I am a big fan) per se, but the people, specifically writers (and in this case, also a scientist), who sought to right a wrong, to expose the corrupt, to tell the truth.
As one team doctor said, “Your work suggests or is suggesting or is proving that football is a dangerous sport, and that if 10 percent of mothers in this country would begin to perceive football as a dangerous sport, that is the end of football.”
I’ll let you do with that as you will.
Another breaking news headline this month: the so-called doctor with the last name of Nassar, who the USA Gymnastic Association inexplicably continued to employ after reported abuse (they deny wrongdoing.) Read this. Or don’t. “The 156 women who spoke in open court this week, chronicling Larry Nassar’s 20-year career as a sexual predator, seethed. They were unsparing. They were implacable. They were also brilliantly sardonic.”
Who did these girls go to when those with the power and money continued to abuse? The free press.
Who took down wall street? The free press.
Who finally brought the Catholic church abuse to light? Writers at The Boston Globe.
Think of our battlefields. Think of our young men and women on those battle fields. Freedom of speech, a tenet of American democracy is a privilege we’ve paid for with our lives.
At this moment, how many thousands of people are there around the world who are sitting in a jail cell for having an opinion? While I so easily publish a blog post.
As E.E. Cummings wrote, “The theory of the free press is not that the truth will be presented completely or perfectly in any one instance, but that the truth will emerge from free discussion.”
Converging with all of these thoughts was watching the wonderfully acted, heart pumping film, The Post, this past weekend, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. Watch a trailer HERE. Ah, I’m such a sucker for stories about the newsroom.
You want to watch bravery in action? Watch a terrified Meryl Streep surrounded by a room full of men, having to make what is likely the hardest and most dangerous choice of her life: expose the highest power of government (possibly face jail time and lose The Washington Post) or keep quiet and risk nothing. It took great restraint not to stand and clap right there in the Regal Cinema.
There’s a line that has stuck with me – “If we don’t publish, we will lose. The country will lose!”
Nixon was ticked (to put it mildly,) and attempted to ban the New York Times from ever covering another white house event. Well, we all know what happened to that guy.
It is a very very dangerous thing to let anyone, much less a sitting president, dictate what is and what isn’t news worthy. And when a president cries “fake news,” let us be very very wary.
Freedom implies the absence of interference from an overreaching government or any other entity which strives to silence truth.
There is no doubt the free press has great power. With that power comes great responsibility (said everyone from God to Yoda to Dumbledore). There are publications creating fake news for a click – and I find it disgusting and immoral.
For all their flaws, I take this side: The truth shall set you free.
As for who must keep the press in check? That’s on you and me. Because if there’s ever a time where we can “buy” the news…what is left?
Tonight is the State of the Union. The press will be in attendance. They will report. Will they get it right? We should tune in.
To those brave enough to speak truth, brave enough to write it, and brave enough to hit “publish:” American heroes.