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For the week of March 28 through April 3, 2001

Journalism’s legacy

The voice mail message for the Mountain Express publisher came right to the point: The Wood River Valley, said the caller, "is too small" and neighborly for the Express to report on such things as the arrests of two local businessmen for their alleged international drug smuggling.

The hint was that the Express should turn a blind eye to small town shortcomings of neighbors and fulfill some lesser role, perhaps confining itself to being a billboard of notices and abandon the more formidable and traditional role of newspapers—serving as a conscience of the community and watchdog of the public’s interests.

Not possible.

Newspapers are institutions with a vital civic calling, shaped by legacies of men and women journalists who’ve charted the course for the American free press and free speech by enduring imprisonment, giving their lives for their profession and risking public ridicule by those who fear an audit of their conduct.

Newspaper journalists are bound to their calling by codes born in the sacrifices and courage of the likes of colonial pamphleteer Tom Paine and printer John Peter Zenger, whose defiance of government authority more than 200 years ago gave heart to a free press that today is the envy of the world.

As the only profession named in the U.S. Constitution and guaranteed freedom from government interference, members of the press take their tasks with more understandable seriousness.

Challenges now faced by the U.S. press are unparalleled. It must not only sort out a virtual flood tide of information and news at home and abroad that influences the lives of Americans, but it must audit the increasingly large and complex functions of public agencies that’re inclined to resent oversight.

In Idaho alone, the political trend is a return to secrecy in their deliberations. Their rationale: they can’t function efficiently with the public and the press looking over their shoulders.

In Blaine County, taxpayers have scant few places to turn for a champion of open government except the press when secrecy reigns.

The county prosecutor, nominally the public’s champion against political abuse, recently gave his stamp of approval to closed-door negotiations between Blaine County and St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center.

Euphemistically known as "mediation," the county’s secret meetings were exposed and condemned by the Express, which intends to rigorously continue unmasking complicity by public officials to deny the public a rightful place at the table in public deliberations.

Were the Express to limit its civic responsibilities and mute its editorial voice in behalf of the people’s right to know, as some would hope, then politicians and quasi-public institutions that prefer the comfort of secrecy and unaudited conduct would be free to run roughshod over the public interest and once again return government to the days of smoke filled back rooms.



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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.