As you leave the terrace at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., with its sprawling views of the U.S. Capitol, you pass the sign in the above photo. You might encounter this statement — which sums up the importance of a free press and defines the overall theme of the museum — after hours of perusing the many artifacts in the collection that underscore the difficulty and risk inherent in protecting this freedom, both here and around the world.
From the bullet-riddled truck Time magazine reporters and photographers drove while covering the siege in Sarajevo to the large broadcast antennae that once stood atop the World Trade Center, reminders of this challenge are displayed throughout the building.
But a free press doesn’t always operate so dramatically. In fact, it serves the public best when it functions quietly. Virtually every newspaper in this country routinely publishes content that only emerges thanks to the freedoms afforded us by the First Amendment. We don’t usually shout it from the rooftops.
This week is different though.
On the facing page is the latest Paw Print cartoon from Shelter Island artist Peter Waldner, which pays tribute to some of the lives lost in the Jan. 7 shooting at the Charlie Hebdo newsroom in Paris. That incident was allegedly a response to a satirical cartoon mocking the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and the attackers have been linked to al-Qaida. On page 2, we’ve published a brief reference to a Frederick County, Md., councilman who threatened Jan. 5 Facebook post to sue the local press if his name appeared in print without his permission. In a show of solidarity, several East End newspapers have published his name this week. (Note: We did not seek his approval.)
The sign at the Newseum says it best: A free press is a cornerstone of democracy and journalists must have a right to tell. That freedom should always include the right to be outrageous.
Nous sommes tous Charlie. Nous devons toujours être libre.