Here is a link to a piece published in The Greenfield Recorder on Saturday, June 27, 2020. The original text is reprinted here, immediately below the link.

https://www.recorder.com/my-turn-Meyer-journalism-34918407

Paying for Journalism: why Democracy Depends on It
Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

Paying for journalism is patriotic—whether it’s for the investigative stories from an online subscription, a newspaper, or original reporting from public TV and radio. If all politics is local then so too is all news. And in tough times it’s up to citizens to support and keep local reporting front and center. Without it, democracy withers.

The First Amendment, securing the franchise of democracy and freedom of expression for all citizens of the United States, reads thus, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Yet on June 1st, US Attorney General William Barr shoved a stick into the eye of the First Amendment. He and President Trump used a phalanx of US Park Police, chemical pepper spray, and a military helicopter to clear a passionate, largely peaceful group of demonstrators from Lafayette Park. This, so the President–flanked by riot police and a military commander, could have a picture taken holding a Bible before a church he had no membership in. It smacked of blatant disrespect for Black people, local religious leaders, free speech and the rights of the citizenry. The king got his photo op.

Then, on June 18th AG Barr made a quietly-arranged stop in Boston–a city with a troubled racial history. He met with Boston’s first Black Commissioner of Police, the recently promoted William Gross. For Commissioner Gross it would’ve been tough to refuse a meeting with the nation’s top law enforcement officer. But for Barr the optics of the visit may have actually been a bigger feature–as one of his aides made sure a request for a quick photo-op was soon posted to social media. A smiling Barr with the Commissioner–seemingly all unified in liberal, troubled Boston, just another fact-empty, news-like social media coup.

Late Friday June 19th when people weren’t focused on news, Attorney General Barr manufactured a press release intended to intimidate Geoffrey Berman–US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, into silently resigning his position of 2-1/2 years. The lie Barr made up about Berman stated he was “stepping down” from his post. No cause given. Barr’s fabrication fell on its face when Berman informed the public, “I have not resigned, I have no intention of resigning.” While Berman refused to go quietly, it must also be noted the Attorney General’s intent was that his power would be bowed-to—and that his late-night maneuver would then subtly mislead US citizens about the facts–about the truth. In grade school parlance writing that false narrative made William Barr plainly, simply, a liar.

William Barr is an accomplished politician. But as the nation’s top legal official I’d describe him as cunning; unfit to umpire a tee-ball game. As a writer, journalist—and citizen, I’m kind of attached to the First Amendment. But Barr has recently made a mockery of that clause in the Bill of Rights. Maybe he’d like it erased. And it seems his boss would rather see the Second Amendment emplaced as law number # 1. At that point any democracy left for your kids may be squeezed down to merely the number of rounds contained in a military style-assault weapon.

When people holding the highest positions in government repeatedly lie, democracy is in danger. When they wield power like a cattle prod at anyone speaking truths they don’t want to hear, Mr. Lincoln’s “government of the people, for the people, and by the people” is in peril. When fear, anger, and blame are used to deflect responsibility for death, discord and disaster in a country desperately in need of courage, compassion, and healing, that country is moving dangerously close to dictatorship.

I’ve never grown tired of democracy. It is the great, imperfect experiment that’s made us unique. When dictators, at times, tried to bully their way to the top of our system, all eventually failed when a light was shined on their actions. And it was journalists, editors, the professional news media–backed by the First Amendment, doing that work. Their stories shone a light not from above, but from street level–work that was bolstered by a common trust, a linkage with the people of America’s cities and towns. Professional reporting and a free press are critical to democracy. Planted, news-like stories and pomp-and-flag-draped photo ops of leaders crying “fake news” when confronted with facts imperil it. Support real journalism, it’s worth every penny.