Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

February 5, 2014

Another View: Efforts to silence press likely to backfire

People in positions of authority frequently find that a free press can be more than a little inconvenient.

Consider the situation that erupted Tuesday night after President Obama’s State of the Union address, when a reporter asked New York Congressman Michael Grimm about campaign finance charges filed against one of his supporters.

Grimm responded by threatening to throw the meddlesome journalist over a balcony.

And he proposed breaking the reporter in half, “like a boy” to boot.

Such conduct can be dismissed as obnoxious behavior on the part of a single, arrogant public official. But journalists frequently draw the attention and ire of those in power.

And the responses may involve far more than angry words.

For instance, The Associated Press learned last year that the United States government was monitoring calls made to its reporters. Supposedly, this was done in an effort to uncover a government leaker. But the breadth and scope of the effort was astonishing, and it appeared to extend far beyond the effort to uncover one leaker.

Plus, revelations that the government was monitoring phone calls made to a news organization undoubtedly would discourage all sorts of tips.

In America, both journalists and the public are fortunate that the nation’s founders were well aware of the need for a free press.

They knew that those who wield power may seek to stifle the free flow of information for their own benefit.

A clear example of this can be seen today in China.

The Beijing government — never a friend of free and open discussion — is being especially tough these days on journalists, including those representing American news organizations.

After a reporter from the New York Times was ordered to leave China this week, the Obama administration weighed in, criticizing the Chinese government’s efforts to silence the press. Recent months have seen increased efforts by Beijing to control foreign media.

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