Hello. My name is Edward Fitzpatrick. I worked for 29 years as a reporter, editor and columnist, including 16 years at The Providence Journal. I’m a New England First Amendment Coalition board member.
Now, more than ever, we must rally behind the organizations and the individual journalists who are under attack (sometimes physically) by those bent on bullying and muzzling, demeaning and delegitimizing a crucial component of our democracy.
That imperative is clear when a reporter is arrested for “yelling questions” at Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.
That imperative is clear when, according to The New York Times, President Donald Trump tells then-FBI Director James Comey he should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information.
And that imperative is clear when the Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat is charged with assault after he is alleged to have “body-slammed” a reporter who asked him about the health care bill.
I mean, YouGottaBeKiddingMe!
Closer to home, the New England First Amendment Coalition is leading the fight for press freedom and the right to know – whether by backing legislation aimed at protecting student journalists in Vermont or by attempting to pry loose grand jury records related to the investigation of the 38 Studios fiasco in Rhode Island.
I now work at Roger Williams University, and I brought a group of RWU students to a NEFAC luncheon in February. The keynote speaker, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan, told the journalism students in attendance, “We need you more than ever.” Well, the same can be said for the New England First Amendment Coalition itself.
We need your support of NEFAC more than ever to help protect the five freedoms of the First Amendment and the public’s right to know.
And it’s not just journalists that need NEFAC; it’s the public. In a 2009 column, I quoted Thomas E. Heslin, who was then The Providence Journal’s executive editor and who helped found NEFAC. He noted that public officials often treat questions about access to public records and information as if those things only matter to the news media. But, he said, “to dismiss the issue of access as the narrow concern of reporters is, to me, akin to dismissing airline safety as the narrow concern of pilots. I assure you, we are all passengers on this democracy.”