Thursday, March 13, 2008

More on the Media's Responsibilities

I have written of late more than once about reporters and their responsibilities under the First Amendment. I am decidedly not in favor of reporters abusing their positions to enable federal criminals (the leakers within the bureaucracy) and aiding and abetting enemies of the United States (Islamists and terrorists). However, reporters absolutely should report when elected officials also abuse their positions, and they should not be silenced by the threats of said public officials.

And that certainly appears to be the case in Duval County, Texas. It is being reported that Sheriff Santiago Barrera, Jr has threatened reporters with jail time if they wrote about his son's arrest. As reported by the Associated Press,
When the Duval County sheriff said he would lock up reporters from local newspapers if they kept "interfering" in his business, no one took the threat lightly.

For 20 years, Sheriff Santiago Barrera Jr. had done what he pleased with no challenges to his reign. He decided who sat in his jail and when they were released. Sometimes it was before a judge got involved and other times it was after.

"I brought the sheriff's department from nothing to what it is right now," said the 67-year-old Barrera.

That's why journalists are on edge about Barrera's recent threat to an Alice Echo-News Journal reporter.

Christopher Maher wrote a front-page story about the arrest of the sheriff's 42-year-old son Miguel Barrera on charges of public intoxication and resisting arrest. According to the newspaper, when Maher called the sheriff about another story, Barrera said, "If you guys keep interfering with my business, I'm going to have you arrested."

This is where the sheriff is crossing the line. His son's arrest for public drunkenness and resisting arrest absolutely should be news in the community. Is it front-page news? Since the sheriff is being challenged by one of his former subordinates, it would seem that, at least by current journalistic 'standards', it is. However, there is no question that this is something that should be reported.

Too often, public figures seem to either have the Press in their pocket (see the case of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton or virtually any other Democratic politician accused of a crime) or cowed (see the cases of CNN vis-a-vis Saddam Hussein, of Google in regards to China). However, the Press has a responsibility to report on all public figures' pratfalls, no matter what the party of the offender. The sheriff has essentially threatened the Press, and in my judgement, he should be brought to account for that threat.

The news media has a responsibility to report honestly. Too often, they seem a curious combination of sheep and bull- the former when a totalitarian regime (whether foreign or local as in this case) or a favored (invariably Democrat) politician is concerned, and bullish when the subject is either their own nation's interests or a disfavored (invariably Republican) politician. It would be nice if they could report objectively, regardless of the subject's political power or affiliation. But then, if they could do that, they would actually be worthy of respect, instead of their current, well-earned contempt.

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