Editorial: Free society is built on trust in free press and the people who will use it
In a series of editorials this week, we've sought to focus attention on the fundamental role the free press plays in helping you protect your freedoms. We did not settle lightly on this topic. We felt the call to emphasize the importance of a free press and identify threats it faces precisely because we've arrived at an era when everyday conversation includes phrases like "fake news," "truthiness" and "facts don't exist," and when the distaste of some individuals for certain ideas and interpretations in the public arena leads to attacks on all contrary ideas and interpretations.
As we conclude the series, let's be clear, restating a point we made in our first installment: We at the Daily Herald are not perfect, nor is any outlet in the nebulous arena many people identify as the "mainstream media."
We all make mistakes. We sometimes don't recognize our own biases. We sometimes overcompensate for them. We are humans, striving toward a goal of telling and presenting complex stories with unwavering objectivity.
No person, no institution can hit such a target every time. We miss it sometimes in the daily crush of news by playing an important tax story deep inside the paper instead of on Page 1. We miss it sometimes over the longer term by misjudging the interests and goals of our audience, as many mainstream outlets have done in connecting with the frustrations in middle-America that Donald Trump shaped into his presidential election victory.
But we try. We constantly are revising our aim. And, it's through that effort that we hope to gain your partnership and your trust.
Despite all our faults, we want to give you stories that include all reasonable sides of a question, that don't promote or reinforce a particular point of view but assume you will sort through the quotes, the headlines, the pictures and the information to determine for yourself what to believe and how to fit it into your political and social world view. We want to provide a wide range of opinions about the news, yet also to keep those opinions distinct from our reporting on events and ideas.
We want to ask tough questions of every political figure, every individual who is seeking support for a vested interest. We want to challenge newsmakers, and give you access to all of them, regardless of their political or social opinions. To do otherwise is to assume that political leaders will always be straight with the public, that vested interests will not spin topics toward their objective.
We believe this approach is a critical component of a meaningful communications structure in a well-functioning democracy. If you don't have available a news report that at least is trying to provide the news in a broad, non-partisan context, you will be forced to select among sources that openly shape, and often distort, facts to promote a particular point of view. Those sources may have their place. We certainly have ours.
The celebrated cynic H.L. Mencken called democracy "the collective wisdom of individual ignorance." He was convinced that people will not do the hard work of researching and examining topics that self-government demands.
We disagree. We are convinced that it's a free press that makes such critical examination possible, and that an institution devoted to the mission of presenting information objectively is the one place in such a mix where readers and viewers can trust that they are being respected, not manipulated.
Founding Father Thomas Jefferson called a free press "the only safeguard of the public liberty" and famously declared that if forced to choose, he would take newspapers without government rather than the other way around. But in almost his very next breath, he also said less famously that "I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them."
In other words, freedom alone is not enough. People also must be capable and willing to seek out a wide range of facts, sort through disparate ideas and tolerate conflicting passions. That approach is a repudiation of Mencken's cynicism and an act of faith in the collective decisions of a free people.
And it is our approach.
If you want easy government, choose tyranny. Let someone else decide what ideas you're worthy of and give you only the information that makes you feel good. If, however, you prefer freedom, be prepared to work for it. We are.
And we're convinced that in an environment where "truth" too often depends on predetermined points of view, we're the type of partner you can count on most for help.