A free press isn’t free

“Freedom of the press is fragile,” says Patricia Campos Mello, a Brazilian journalist who works for Folha de Sao Paulo, and who knows more than I about the subject.

She is one of four journalists featured in “Endangered,” a 90-minute documentary now on HBO.

Brazilian journalist Patricia Campos Mello was attacked by her president

It was recommended to me by a nonjournalist Facebook friend. I report on it now reluctantly, because I don’t like whining about journalists’ problems. Our role is to help people with their problems. But we can do that only if we are here to do it. And fewer of us are, every day.

Foreign journalists have a much more dangerous job than Americans, whose role is protected by the First Amendment.

About a decade ago, a local group asked me to be among a handful of Philadelphia journalists with different specialities to meet with journalists visiting from Kazakhstan. (That’s where Borat is from, and the journos were distinctly not amused by Sacha  Baron Cohen’s journalistic character.)

The visitors were here to study reporting techniques, and they admired what Americans can do. 

I told them I admired them, because I could — and did — criticize the mayor, the governor, the president, with no fear of arrest or kidnapping — unlike them, with no guarantee of their freedom. They operated under government threat. They are brave.

As is Mello, when reporting on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who accused her newspaper of publishing nothing but lies about him. “No more fake news,” he said in 2020, singing from someone else’s hymnal.

President Bolsonaro defames a journalist

When she covered what she called Bolsonaro’s “illegal attempt to influence the election” — something else that sounds familiar — the president of her country said she traded sex for information. “She wanted a scoop. And she was ready to give her hole for a scoop.”

So half the country thinks I’m a whore, Mello said with grim resignation. 

In a 2020 pro-government rally, one supporter on a bullhorn shouted, “We must destroy the mainstream media,” “These reporters are criminals” and “These people need to be exterminated.” It is chillingly familiar. An American president called reporters “the enemy of the people.”

But American reporters don’t “disappear.” 

A split screen between São Paulo and Miami suggests a connection between the anti-press tactics of Bolsonaro and Donald J. Trump. (By coincidence, last week Fox News’ Tucker Carlson went to Brazil for a fawning interview with Bolsonaro, which turned a neat trick: He said Brazil is a democracy, with “less free speech, more police involvement in politics,” than in the U.S., as if it were a bad thing.

Yet he conducted an interview without once raising the question of “less free speech” and “more police involvement in politics.” Carlson is no Patricia Campos Mello.)

Toward the end of the documentary, we learned that a Brazilian court fined President Bolsonaro for slandering the female journalist.

In Mexico City, photojournalist Sashenka Gutierrez of the Efe News Agency tucks her purple hair under a helmet as she goes out to cover street protests by feminists against women being murdered or disappeared by the state. She is beaten by police, and talks about being “at risk” every time she goes out in the street in Mexico, a democracy.

Carl Juste covers a George Floyd protest

In Florida, Miami Herald photographer Carl Juste is tear gassed while covering the George Floyd protest/riots, during which cameras capture cops arresting journalists doing their job on the street.

“We are moderators of fact. We are moderators of falsehood,” says Juste, who filed photos he had just taken from his car rather than from the office.

Around this time, the Herald was purchased by a hedge fund that closed the newsroom to save money. Everyone now works from home. (The Herald was once the flagship of the highly-regarded Knight-Ridder chain, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, whose iconic building was sold by different hedge fund vultures for far less than its value.)

Here’s where “Endangered” goes a bridge too far, combining the threats reporters face with the failing finances of the newspaper business, which loses about two papers a week. The U.S. had 6,377 newspapers in May, down from 8,891 in 2005. Each subject deserves its own treatment.

Documentary producers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady should have concentrated on the physical threats, easily obtained from the Committee to Protect Journalists, which reports that 46 journalists had been killed in connection with their work in 2017, as compared to 48 in 2016, and 72 in 2015, and that of those journalists killed, 18 had been murdered.

The fourth journalist reported on was Oliver Laughland of Britain’s The Guardian, covering several U.S. news events, including the George Floyd disturbances, and the January 6 riot in the Capitol.

Unlike the journos in Brazil and Mexico, he is not threatened by state-sponsored retaliation. 

He’s been working in the U.S. for about 6 years and said that people now can’t agree on what is fact. “You are living in two different realities.”

This fork in the road started prior to Trump, but his presidency gave it a jet boost.

When he started his anti-press garbage, I brushed it off as his usual insult barrage against anyone who criticizes the narcissistic, thin-skinned millionaire. 

Just ignore it, let your good work speak for itself, I told my colleagues. 

I was sanguine and, as it turns out, overly optimistic about the common sense of the average American. And most Trump supporters are average Americans. They are not the “deplorables,” in the elitist term coined by Hillary Clinton.

They were deeply dissatisfied with the direction of America. Their alienation has been explored elsewhere.

But I did not fully understand how Trump’s toxicity poisoned them against American institutions, including the press. The Trump Doctrine is not MAGA. It is a witch’s brew of prideful ignorance and mind-blowing arrogance.

I know at least a few of my Trumpster subscribers don’t trust the press.

But they do trust me. They say I am an exception. That is flattering but untrue. 98% of my colleagues are straight shooters.

One of the things I try to do at Stubykofsky.com is to explain, honestly, how journalists work. Regulars know I am a frequent critic of bad press media practices.

The vast, overwhelming majority of journalists are not enemies of the people, they are protectors of the people.

If you think the press is bad, I guarantee you will not like life without it. Because with no watchdog, even a relatively tame one, authorities — from the mayor to the cops to the revenue department to the parking authority — would be free to go batshit crazy. And you would not even know it was happening.

The Founding Fathers knew this. You should too.

52 thoughts on “A free press isn’t free”

  1. Stu, your article is very, very scary. Unfortunately while it is not only true, it also tells of a real possibility of the same thing happening here under Trump and people like him.

    The lste Senator, John McCain, speaking about Trump warned us that suppressing the free press was “how dictators get started”.

  2. This is a painfully accurate portrait of what Trump and his blind, deaf and dumb supporters have helped do to this country. I agree that many of them are simply average Americans who feel somehow left out. I get it. However, they are also simply misinformed, pretty much all of them. Their condemnation of “the swamp” is laughable given the obvious fact that Trump brought in his OWN swamp to bring the government to its knees so he and his chums could continue their wealth-building unabated by laws, regulation, and ethics. That’s who he is, and who he has always been. Ask anyone in Atlantic City or New York City. People who believe this despot gives a flying fog about anything but himself are delusional. He has NEVER cared about anything but himself. And he never will.

    Much of this is somewhat thanks to the toxic mix of 40 years of Fox “News” distortions, which have produced a public that simply does not trust the media, and cannot separate truth from fiction. I have great respect for reporters and their ethics. I studied to be one, and the ethics of the job were drummed into us like a mantra. The people who taught me, like Jack Gillespie, Herschel Engebretson, Frank Grazian and others, cared deeply about truth, accuracy, and justice. Once we lost the ability to agree on facts, all potential for reasonable discourse was lost.

    I hope the people of this country wake up before it’s too late, Stu. I really do. As the previous comment suggests, eliminating the free press is the first thing the Nazi’s did to completely control the narrative. Could it happen here? I hope not, but I am no longer certain. And let’s not lose track of the fact that Germany was indeed a Democratic Republic prior to Hitler (https://www.annefrank.org/en/anne-frank/go-in-depth/germany-1933-democracy-dictatorship/). I’ve always agreed with the famous quote, “know your history or you are destined to repeat it.” We need to tighten up the ship lest “Idiocracy” becomes reality.

    1. Germany had no First Amendment. I have no fear of being locked up.
      As stated, my fear is the distrust Trump has sowed.
      And don’t be too hard on Fox News, which does a very credible job of reporting certain stories MSM doesn’t like — like the crisis at the southern border. And some extremes of woke culture.
      I tell people to use more than one news source.

      1. Germany did not have a first amendment, but at the time the Nazis came to power in 1933, the German constitution guaranteed freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

      Sorry to hear that you have so much pent up poison in you. You don’t and won’t like President Trump. So be it. I just don’t understand how you and people like you can twist facts and ignore truths, while America is showing signs of failure. Just for clarification. I’m not in love with any Presidents, past and definitely not present. I can admire or respect the gains of a human being without either liking him/her nor hating him/her. There have been people all through history that have done great things and they usually come at a very high price. Someone’s win is another’s loss.
      Cut to the chase. President Trump’s Cabinet, for the most part, were Washington D.C. outsiders. This was probably a first in politics. These men and woman were very qualified in their chosen profession. Their downfall simply put, was not being able to play the political game. These captains of industry were not used to being challenged and certainly not by some political stooge that got their job through politics – not skill. I remember watching a round table discussion with Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, Sr.. The camera was on Dr. Carson’s face as a nonsense discussion was on the floor. The look on his face was one questioning the ability of these political hacks. In layman’s terms: What the F*&^K ! Are you Sh(**^ me ?
      No freeze. You are 100% wrong when you attack Trump’s Cabinet. Try attacking all of the SWAMP DWELLERS. It’s so much easier. Political hacks who specialize in robbing and raping the American public.

    3. Freeze, what you posted here, IMO, is one of the best I have ever seen. 👍👍👍👍👍

      1. The MSM and the democrats lied about trump since he came down the escalator. The fake Russian hoax that was known to be false by the FBI and CIA. John Brennan and James Clapper lied to the American people as paid pundits for years . The only outlet that told the truth was fox.

      2. H. I agree. Freeze always posts thoughtful and coherent, articulate positions. I enjoy reading them as well.

  3. Freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of our republic. Let’s hope factual information is consistently reported without personal bias. An educated populace is our road to respect and collective success. We are not a 3rd world country.

  4. I agree with all of the comments of folks posting here and find your article as scary as they do. I just wonder how your MAGA fans will react to it.

  5. I’ve been around long enough and witnessed enough of the press’s lopsided leaning to the Left to make me quite wary of what I read, see, and hear.

  6. Thank you for another excellent article. While we do not know each other, I sincerely feel you honestly believe the vast, overwhelming majority of journalists are not enemies of the people, they are protectors of the people.

    There’s a reason why I’m here, maybe others too. About two years ago after 35+ years of subscribing to and reading cover to cover daily I completely terminated my relationship with the Philadelphia Inquirer. Why? I could no longer trust the veracity of any stories they published. They conveniently suppressed stories that didn’t fit their narrative and constantly published stories highlighting hazy details supporting their positions at the exclusion of all else. For several years I held my nose and read along anyway until I could no longer bring myself to do so. I was (and am) of the impression they stopped seeking the truth as an institution. Before I’m done bashing them (ditto for other so called news agencies), what is anyone’s prediction on their Candidate Endorsements for Election Day 2022? Will they make themselves feel unbiased and truthful by endorsing 1st Congressional District incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick? Or will it be a clean sweep across the board? Even money.

    The good news is there are guardians of the truth in the journalistic ranks. That’s why I depend on you. Another thank you for your excellent work!

    1. Thanks for your vote of confidence. Speaking generally, “slant” occurs in story selection, rather than by slanting specific stories.
      As for the Inky, since I signed a non disclosure agreement when I left, and since I am suing them, I can make no comment. But please tell ypur friends where they can find me.

  7. The democrats are destroying the country right before our eyes. The free but not fair press tells only one side of the story. Do people think Biden is doing a good job. The free but not fair press must think so because you never read anything negative about him.

      1. Lets be fair Stu. A few negative articles about Biden compared to Trump’s 24/7 assault the last 6 years.

        1. Daniel, please understand. The Democrats consider a few negative articles vs. a vicious 24/7, 6-year assault fair. Fair and balanced.

        2. You said you “never read anything negative about him.”
          One exAmple would have been enough. There are plenty lately.
          There are fewer about Biden because a) most of the MSM is anti Trump, b) Trump gave them so much ammunition with his stupid conduct, c) Biden hasn’t.

          1. Biden’s ‘conduct’ is whatever his handlers tell him it is. Talk about night of the living dead!

    Some good, some not so good. As I said on your Facebook posting, the owners dictate what happens with their newspapers and T.V. shows. You had an exceptional career when you were drawing a paycheck. How do you think that you would fair in today’s world.
    To be fair, I read what is available on line. Out here in Chester County, we have biased writing on both sides of the aisle. It is much more softer than the heavy hacking that comes out of Philly and NYC to name two blue towns.
    I read somewhere that the younger folks get ALL of their news from the internet. That IS the problem. There is so much B.S. on the internet that you almost need somebody to set up filters.
    I want to know the truth. I can deal with the truth. I can react to the truth. How do you prepare for a lie when the lie becomes another lie and another.
    Pallie, you are a young 80 ! Keep doing what you are doing. It helps to keep some of us young – at least in spirit.

    1. “𝙄 𝙬𝙖𝙣𝙩 𝙩𝙤 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙩𝙧𝙪𝙩𝙝. 𝙄 𝙘𝙖𝙣 𝙙𝙚𝙖𝙡 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙩𝙧𝙪𝙩𝙝. 𝙄 𝙘𝙖𝙣 𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙘𝙩 𝙩𝙤 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙩𝙧𝙪𝙩𝙝.”

      Your problem Tony is that you deny the truth.

          1. HAPPY THURSDAY !!!
            to you three that wear blinders,
            You are a walking example of the first amendment. You have your very slanted opinions and deny others. Some of you go so far as to get negative and attack those that don’t agree with you.
            Well boys and girl, You hide your education well. This is not grade school recess. You don’t have to stand together, point fingers and stick out your tongue. Nobody here is running home to tell mommy that the school bullies were picking on them.
            so there.

    2. “𝙎𝙤𝙢𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙜𝙤 𝙨𝙤 𝙛𝙖𝙧 𝙖𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙜𝙚𝙩 𝙣𝙚𝙜𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙫𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙖𝙩𝙩𝙖𝙘𝙠 𝙩𝙝𝙤𝙨𝙚 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙙𝙤𝙣’𝙩 𝙖𝙜𝙧𝙚𝙚 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙮𝙤𝙪.”

      Tony, your orange skin buddy, Trump, and his ilk do the same thing but I do not hear you complain when they do it. Why is that?

    3. Tony, me asking you “Why is that?” is rhetorical since I doubt you will answer me with anything more than a non-answer answer.

      1. h,
        you obviously are much older than I and suffer from dementia. Several times I have said to you that I won’t play your silly games. You idea of a discussion is name calling and ridicule.
        As for your non-answer. Donald Trump did what nobody else could of, but should have done. He woke up the voters. He showed how inept and corrupt the swamp really is. Because of all of that and more, the giant political machine rose up to squash him and his cabinet. You remember the outsiders that Trump brought in to straighten out the country. Some of it worked, some didn’t. These Captains of Industry were never around ignorant people – until they went to D.C.. There, they met political patronage at its best ( worst ) ! Some of the original cabinet left early because of this nonsense that we created.
        The biggest sore spot was that the swamp couldn’t buy President Trump.
        So, worts and all, were the Presidential election be held tomorrow, Trump would blow biden and the dimocrats clear out of D.C., returning OUR capitol to the people of this great country.

        1. Tony, you said quite a lot but never answered the question, yet you have the nerve to say I am suffering from dementia.

          I will try once more. No name calling, no ridicule.

          “𝙎𝙤𝙢𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙜𝙤 𝙨𝙤 𝙛𝙖𝙧 𝙖𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙜𝙚𝙩 𝙣𝙚𝙜𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙫𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙖𝙩𝙩𝙖𝙘𝙠 𝙩𝙝𝙤𝙨𝙚 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙙𝙤𝙣’𝙩 𝙖𝙜𝙧𝙚𝙚 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙮𝙤𝙪.”

          Tony, your buddy, Trump, and his ilk do the same thing but I do not hear you complain when they do it. Why is that?

  9. I’ve said before, Stu, there’d be no need for FOX, et al, if the news wasn’t slanted. If they’re in trouble it’s their fault .They’ve brought it on themselves.
    As to why the liberal media is all of a sudden hitting on Biden, just look to the polls. 88% say we are going in the wrong direction.
    And to the Trump-bashing-cult…”it’s the economy, stupid.”

    1. I guess you have dropped down the Memory Hole the shitstorm of criticism of Biden after the debacle of the Afghanistan withdrawal. Selective GOP memory.

      1. If that dereliction of duty wasn’t a reason for impeachment nothing is. But the press and the democrats sat mostly silent. Plus the invasion on the southern border. And him giving up our energy independence. Just to name a few major screw ups. You would never hear the end of it if Trump did it. And how about Hunter.

        1. Daniel,
          Sad how things ( politics ) work. Trump annoyed people and the swamp tries to impeach him on garbage.
          biden has done so much wrong with the border, illegals and misrepresenting us – the American citizen – that there HAS to be grounds for impeachment in there someplace. But, we all know why things are as they are.

          1. Stu admits The MSM is anti trump and leans to the left. So how can they be straight shooters..

        2. I have been a harsh critic of Biden’s border policies, a chief reason I did not vote for him. The media occasionally covers the crisis, while Fox covers it nightly, along with conservative radio.
          Which is why I tell people to have more than one news source.

      2. Speaking of shitstorm, and memory, I’m trying to come up with at least one positive, plus thing that has happened to the United States of America since the Dems took over the White House, Congress and Senate in 2020. I’m coming up with a HUGE goose egg. However, they seem to be doing wonders in assisting Russia, Ukraine, Iran, India and Red China. Respectfully, Stude.

          1. How much will actually be used for infrastructure remains to be seen. Have you ever wondered how much of Governor Wolf’s 50-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline to repair Pennsylvania’s roads has actually been used for something other than pothole installation? Take a ride on Route 422 sometime; the road is a disgrace. However, the landscape engineers have done a remarkable job is assuring the trash along the road is evenly distributed.

          2. “We will see” can be said of any governmental expenditure.
            Part of the problem is local control. I’m amazed that much Covid money has yet to be spend.
            The problem is accountability.

    2. Daniel, It is very obvious to me that you are the one who is either not paying attention, or is turning a blind eye to what Stu says.

      In the time I have spent here I know Stu, most definitely, pays attention to what is going on. It is you, and the people like you, who ̶d̶o̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶ ̶p̶a̶y̶ ̶a̶t̶t̶e̶n̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ ignore what they do not like to see when it is contrary to the lies they spout.

  10. All of the preceding give and take by the readers of this, one of Stu’s great columns, is proof that a vibrant, argumentative, uncensored open forum is what keeps our country strong. God bless the Founding Fathers for the First Amendment!

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