By: Ned Stafford
Read the following 225 words from a Tuesday news story in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, and ask yourself: Would these honest, hard-hitting words appear in one of the major newspapers, such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post or USA Today?
The story, by the Herald-Leader?s Frank E. Lockwood, covers a local appearance by Cindy Sheehan, president of Gold Star Families for Peace, an organization whose membership includes relatives of more than 50 soldiers who died in Iraq.
Here are the 225 words:
?Cindy Sheehan of Vacaville, Calif., accused President Bush of lying to the nation about a war which has consumed tens of billions of dollars and claimed more than 1,700 American lives — including the life of (her son) Army Specialist Casey Austin Sheehan. …
?Sheehan ridiculed Bush for saying that it’s ?hard work? comforting the widow of a soldier who’s been killed in Iraq: ?Hard work is seeing your son’s murder on CNN one Sunday evening while you’re enjoying the last supper you’ll ever truly enjoy again. Hard work is having three military officers come to your house a few hours later to confirm the aforementioned murder of your son, your first-born, your kind and gentle sweet baby. Hard work is burying your child 46 days before his 25th birthday. Hard work is holding your other three children as they lower the body of their big (brother) into the ground. Hard work is not jumping in the grave with him and having the earth cover you both,? she said …
“?We’re watching you very carefully and we’re going to do everything in our power to have you impeached for misleading the American people,? she said, quoting a letter she sent to the White House. ?Beating a political stake in your black heart will be the fulfillment of my life … ,? she said, as the audience of 200 people cheered.?
You don?t need to be a liberal, an antiwar activist or a Pulitzer Prize winner to know that those two grafs reflect the sort of pure, unadulterated, hard-hitting journalism the Founding Fathers envisioned when they tacked freedom of the press at the very top of the Bill of Rights. The free flow of information is the lifeblood of a democracy. If newspapers begin to self-censor ugly truths from the news for fear that certain politicians and their supporters might be offended, then freedom of the press is not functioning as it should and democracy in America is at risk.
Some editors might argue that Sheehan is not newsworthy. But having lost a son in Iraq, she speaks with a special kind of authority. So to go back to the original question: Would those 225 words ever appear in The New York Times or the Washington Post or other national newspaper? Or can they only appear in the smaller papers, many of which currently seem to reflect more accurately the growing anger about this war in many parts of the country, as reflected in all the recent public opinion polls?
Let?s see how the big newspapers perform on Thursday when Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Democratic colleagues hold a hearing on the so-called Downing Street Memo. Sheehan is scheduled to testify, as are outspoken opponents of the Iraq war such as former ambassador Joe Wilson and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern.
How will the event be covered in Friday?s editions of the New York Times and Washington Post? Or will newspaper editors at those newspapers decide not to wield that most beautiful tool of democracy ? the First Amendment ? and run no story at all, as they appear to have done so often these last few years?