Friday, August 14, 2020

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West River Eagle Editorial Board: Secure the free press, secure us all

There were several major stories and momentous events over the course of 2018 that people interpreted as being “warning signs” for our future.

The November 23rd release of a 13 agency federal report detailing how uncontrollable global warming is now inarguably leading to catastrophic climate change raised some but nowhere near enough alarm.

As a result of current inaction, in the coming decades long-standing political and economic systems will be stressed beyond anyone’s ability to accurately predict whether or not they can possibly be further sustained.

Various conflicts at flashpoints across the country were consistently in the news that starkly illuminated the ongoing and serious divisions along race and class lines singeing the essential fabric which binds American society.

A “post-racial” America appears to be as distant a dream as ever. And besides shocking mass shootings with mind-numbing body counts from coast to coast that grab so much headline attention, “normal” gun violence continues to bring heartache and anguish into too many otherwise ordinary lives with the Center for Disease Control producing data this past week showing that 40,000 Americans died from firearms in 2017, a 40 year high since such statistics began being compiled.

After these tragedies, whether in rural or urban settings, we hear less and less people in affected communities say, “I never thought anything like this could happen here.”

Yet, even in the harrowing light of the harsh realities forced upon all of us by these and other burning issues, one story should serve as a true “warning sign” for our future. The assassination of Washington Post columnist and American legal resident, Jamal Khashoggi, on October 2nd at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and the Trump administration’s subsequent response, or more appropriately, lack thereof toward the acknowledged perpetrators of this vicious act.

After starting discussions about this piece at an editorial board meeting of this newspaper earlier this month, Time magazine selected Khashoggi, as well as several other murdered or jailed journalists, as their Persons of the Year, commemorated together under the banner of “The Guardians and the War on Truth.”

Here at the West River Eagle, we agree with Time’s choice.The author and philosopher, DaShanne Stokes, cautions that, “Fascism thrives in obscurity and darkness.”

President Trump’s continuous verbal and tweeted attacks upon the free press around the world, but particularly in this country, as “fake news” and an “enemy of the people” seems to have resonated with far too many of our fellow citizens who are on the fringe. The horrifying murders in late June of five Capital Gazette employees in Annapolis, Maryland, also honored by Time, cast a shadow over editorial rooms of newspapers regardless of political or cultural affiliation. These murders were also met with a muted, if not callous, response from the Trump administration. But the administration’s response to the brutal, private execution of Khashoggi is simply inexplicable.

After first calling for time to gather facts, the president rejected, as he has with Russian election interference, the conclusions of his own intelligence community, which clearly blamed a Saudi crown prince, and exonerated the leaders of the royal family from any involvement, choosing instead to emphasize in public statements and on the social media platform, Twitter, the utmost importance of concluding a multi-billion dollar arms deal with the dictatorial regime.

Underreported is Saudi Arabia’s investment of billions since the 1980’s into Trump business entities continuing up to this very day.

In August of 2015 at a rally in Alabama, the then still-reality–star said, “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

The president’s tacit acceptance of the circumstances in the death of Khashoogi simply cannot be justified. Another well-publicized attack on an adversarial journalist, CNN’s Jim Acosta, brazenly displayed the president’s disdain for being challenged by the press.

Trump has long complained about his coverage on CNN and attempted to have the highly regarded reporter’s White House credentials revoked. Only the intervention of a federal judge has prevented this from happening.

Perhaps the mocking of the disabled New York Times reporter, Serge Kovaleski, while Trump was still a candidate in 2016, using grossly exaggerated pantomime and stuttering speech, revealed early on how truly hostile this president is toward a free press.

“The only security of all is in a free press.” Thomas Jefferson wrote those words to Lafayette in 1823 as a warning to future generations of Americans.

This year more than any other in recent American history should lead all of us to appreciate the newspapers who have managed to survive the digital revolution, to appreciate all forms of media that courageously seek out the truth and live by the principle of responsibly reporting it.

At the WRE, we strive to live and work by this principle and pledge to be a light whenever darkness begins to gather.