For the past year, in moves that feel more like the ‘Hunger Games’ than the expected decorum of the White House, the President and other lawmakers have made sport of bashing and trying to suppress journalists who believe deeply in a code of ethics set forth by the Society of Professional Journalists.
It is a code that pushes journalists to seek the truth and report it; it is a code that demands courage; it is a code that requires vigilance when holding those in power accountable; and it is a code that pushes journalists to tell the story of the “diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.”
And these days it gets harder and harder for journalists to tell the story of those in power and to raise forth the voices of those not heard. To do so risks reputation and sometimes even employment.
According to a 2018 report by the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, the most perilous place for a journalist in the U.S. last year was at a protest. Of the 122 incidents threatening press freedom, nearly half occurred at protests, where journalists faced physical attacks from police and demonstrators, were arrested by law enforcement, and had their equipment seized and, in some cases, searched.
According to the report, “law enforcement officials arrested journalists 34 times. Of the 45 physical attacks on journalists in 2017, two were committed by elected officials: Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte 'body slammed' a reporter, injuring him and breaking his glasses. Gianforte was elected the next day, and an Alaska state senator slapped a reporter in the state capitol building.
According to the Reporter's Committee report, last year, "journalists were stopped while crossing U.S. borders, denied access to public meetings and information, subpoenaed to testify in court, and subjected to unprecedented verbal attacks from public officials, often at the highest levels of government.”
For me, in my journalistic career, there have been many times that I have been unpopular, not liked and harassed. It often comes with the job. It is a task I take on willingly because that is what I am charged to do from my own internal ethical beliefs.
I have investigated the underbelly of a society that sometimes is a bit hard to look at. I have covered Federal death penalty trials and witnessed testimony that reveals gruesome details of sometimes heinous crimes; and I have spent time with inmates facing life in prison, because I believe their story also has a side.
Throughout it all, in over 25 years of reporting, for the most part, I have been respected for my treatment of others and the thoroughness of my work.
Nonetheless in the past 10 months, since covering the NY-21 congressional race and Rep. Elise Stefanik, I have faced continual suppression by the congresswoman and her staff, with actions that belie the freedoms afforded me and other journalists by the Constitution and the First Amendment.
Still, I continue to ask the congresswoman for a response to what I write, in hopes of one day getting a response, not just a link to a story written by another newspaper or a link to her Facebook page.
And now this week, the Stefanik backlash spread to a local weekly newspaper that called into question my reporting on a very simple issue regarding how a room was reserved. To clarify word choice, the Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “reserved” as, "to set aside or have set aside."
The columnist wrote that according to the congresswoman, my story about constituents reserving the public room at the Moreau Community Center in South Glens Falls, for time following Stefanik's long-awaited town hall meeting last week was, “bogus.”
It was not.
And a Queensbury constituent, Sara Carpenter, did in fact set aside time with the center for the time following the congresswoman’s scheduled one-hour session.
On Thursday, following the publication of the column containing the “bogus” claim, Carpenter visited the weekly publication and The Post-Star detailing the events leading to the “reservation” in question. And she said she clearly explained to editors at both papers how she called ahead and asked the center’s director of development if she could set aside time for the room at 1 p.m., adding that she also asked if she could also have access to the sound equipment.
Carpenter said she was told she could have the space as long as it was wrapped up by 3:45 p.m. She also said that the center director was away and if there was a problem when the director returned, they would call her. Carpenter did not get a call, assuming the room was set aside to continue the forum with or without the congresswoman at 1 p.m.
When the town hall was first announced, Stefanik’s spokesman, Tom Flanagin, would not answer my questions about the forum and its format, referring me to an article published in the weekly paper that said my story was “bogus.”
But I learned long ago to trust my own facts and not take them from another newspaper.
So I called the Moreau Community Center and talked with Kelly Obermayer, director of development for the Moreau who told me that Stefanik had reserved the room for one-hour, from 12 to 1 p.m.
Calling out another reporter and publishing inaccurate information about the reporter's writing without even talking personally to that reporter ahead is troubling to me; and a poignant reminder that not all reporters are created equal. It is a reminder that we each handle situations in different ways; and we each must answer to our own code.
For me, I choose the code of ethics I was directed (by esteemed professors) to craft long ago at American University in Washington, D.C., in graduate school. It took me weeks to write that code of behavior that I felt was worthy of the profession. And even in the face of painful backlash and name calling, I have and will continue to follow that code written years ago. I stand by my reporting and will not be stopped by bullying and manipulative politicians or others.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "No government ought to be without censors, and where the press is free, no one ever will."