Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Asking questions

In the past month, two noteworthy newspapermen have died. Both Pat Murphy, longtime columnist and opinion writer for the Idaho Mountain Express, and Idaho Falls Post Register Publisher Robb Brady, who practically invented environmental writing, were special to the Express.

Both believed, as do we, that accurate information and vigorous public debate are essential to maintaining a democratic society, and that newspapers are a critical part of those discussions. Both started out as dedicated reporters, the kind who ask "rude questions."

Murphy once asked a county supervisor in Arizona why he was pushing a road that went nowhere except to the development of a contributor. That supervisor never forgave, nor talked to, Murphy again.

Journalists like Brady and Murphy and their newspapers are often targets of recrimination when they do their job badly, but maybe even more often when they do their job well.

It's an old story.

In 1733, John Peter Zenger published a newspaper to voice opposition to the policies of the newly appointed New York colonial governor. Within a year, the governor had had enough of Zenger's New York Weekly Journal and Zenger himself. Zenger was arrested and charged with seditious libel.

It's not that what Zenger wrote, or what Brady or Murphy wrote, was not true. It was. The issue was that those in power and those who want to befriend those in power don't want their words or actions questioned.

Without courageous journalists like Zenger and Murphy and Brady, who ask "rude questions," we would find it much harder to be informed citizens.

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