It has come to this: Not only are members of the media “enemies of the people,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer now says some of them can’t share his playpen.
Reporters from The New York Times, BuzzFeed, the Los Angeles Times, CNN and Politico are the first to have the door slammed in their face. And to their credit, staffers for Time and The Associated Press chose not to participate in Spicer’s briefing in protest.
The question then is a simple one: Why didn’t others opt out, as well? How important is it to listen to Spicer’s alternative facts?
How have we reached a point in history when an administration wants to orchestrate the process so that journalists it doesn’t like won’t be allowed to engage in healthy dialogue?
It’s bad enough that technology is herding us into virtual communities, putting the future of our geographic communities, our towns, cities and villages, at risk.
We are passing through a time when strong and inspirational leadership is needed more than ever before.
I remember a letter that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to Gene Patterson, then editor of the Atlanta Constitution. It was in 1967.
“I have come to the conclusion,” King wrote, “that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he finds himself in moments of comfort and moments of convenience, but where he finds himself in moments of challenge and moments of controversy.”
We know how King responded in those moments, with physical courage beyond our comprehension and with moral courage that truly lived into what he preached.
How will today’s leaders respond? How will journalists respond?
Take a few seconds and think back to Sept. 11, 2001. A friend, Jay Harris, a former publisher of the San Jose Mercury News, said it best about how the press responded to that tragic moment in our history: “It wasn’t about the big story, it was about the big responsibility.”
Journalists, from ground zero to Los Angeles, from Seattle to the Pentagon to a field in Pennsylvania, and all stops near and far, lived up to that responsibility.
When Katrina body-slammed our shores, once again journalists put aside their own feelings and provided a lifeline for all of us who were wandering in ignorance, not knowing what was happening and what would come next.
Were they your enemies?
Let’s examine the work of some of the people who would qualify for President Donald Trump’s Nixon-like list. They are past and present staffers at The Sacramento Bee:
Debbie haunted area classrooms for months and exposed a system that practically programmed poor children to fail. Her pursuit of the truth changed the lives of thousands of students.
A 71-year-old nurse who lay sick and dying in a hospital in Chile was able to fly home at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars because a generous reader saw Cynthia’s story.
Nancy sat for hours with a Cambodian family in Stockton, holding the hands of a mother whose child has been shot dead on a playground. The family had expected a government official to come share their grief. Nancy filled the void.
Mike was in Mexico City covering an earthquake, but he put down his notebook and picked up a shovel and joined the crews searching for possible survivors buried under the rubble.
Kent was reporting on hunger in California, and after his story was published, he went back and used his own money to buy food for the family he wrote about.
Tom’s stories helped protect the majesty of the Sierra mountain range; Marjie wrote of the senseless death of a 4-year-old named Adrian; Deb explored the use of primates in medical research; Renée captured the emotional pictures of a child suffering from a cancerous tumor in his abdomen; and Jack challenges the powerful with a combination of wit and a piercing pen in his editorial cartoons.
They are your neighbors, not your enemies.
Gregory Favre is the former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and retired vice president of news for The McClatchy Co. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.