Journalism matters, as does History

Posted 7/20/17

"These are the times that try men's souls.” This simple quotation from Founding Father Thomas Paine's The American Crisis not only describes the beginnings of the American Revolution, but also the …

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Journalism matters, as does History

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"These are the times that try men's souls.” This simple quotation from Founding Father Thomas Paine's The American Crisis not only describes the beginnings of the American Revolution, but also the life of Paine himself. Throughout most of his life, his writings inspired passion, but also brought him great criticism. He communicated the ideas of the Revolution to common farmers as easily as to intellectuals, creating prose that stirred the hearts of the fledgling United States. He had a grand vision for society: he was staunchly anti-slavery, and he was one of the first to advocate a world peace organization and social security for the poor and elderly.—from US history.org

Pictured above: modern lower-body Pain at left and journalist and American patriot Paine of the 1770s at right.

Freedom from oppression led to the formation of this “land of opportunity” back in the early 1600s. It took another century for American journalism to struggle into being. For practical purposes the first true newspaper in this land was The New England Courant, published by Ben Franklin’s older brother James. It was founded in Boston on Aug. 7, 1721. As Wikipedia puts it, Franklin’s associates “were known as the Hell-Fire Club; they succeeded in publishing a distinctive newspaper that annoyed the New England elite while proving entertaining and establishing a kind of literary precedent.” Ben Franklin apprenticed at the paper at age 12.

I have among my historical artifacts an issue of a colonial newspaper dating from before the American Revolution of 1775. I had two direct ancestors among this country’s first white invaders, one on the Mayflower, one about 15 years later. Both were quite significant historically. But my many years of family research have revealed no one associated with journalism in any way until I, like Ben, “apprenticed” to printer Claude Mitton at the Port Townsend Leader—at age 15. And like Ben’s brother James, I eventually published an outspoken newspaper for a time, beginning at age 29.

I still have fond memories of the days of my youth when at the behest of its residents I initiated an edition of my paper in another county. One advertiser who stuck to his guns with me was physically threatened and carried a handgun to work in his drug store. I at one point enlisted my late brother Dick as a bodyguard for trips into that community, where I was confronted, hissed at, etc. when attending pubic meetings of the crooked public officials involved. But that was all in California  in 1959. 

I have been associated for 73 years with newspapers, part time or full time with the Port Townsend Leader (where I was convinced to return late in 1960 and remain now as a contributor), the Jefferson County Herald, the Pullman Herald, the Greenville (Calif.) Record (which I published), the Feather River Bulletin (California). I have been a stringer for Associated Press. I once was a regular contributor to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Sunday magazine section. My letters have appeared periodically in The Seattle Times for many years, and one won me a bronze plaque.

Back in 1954, while a journalism student at UC Berkeley, I did a term paper that was an exposé of the California Newspaper Association. It caused a considerable statewide stir, and I coordinated with the CNPA briefly thereafter. Why all this talk about me? This is my resumé of qualifications for participation in this forum accommodating opinions and championing Free Speech and Freedom of the Press.

I know first-hand where the American Press—“mainstream,” “liberal” or however its self-serving critics want to describe it in their frustration—came from, what it’s been doing and what it’s trying to continue doing these days. “Fake News” is the refuge of scoundrels unable to muster intellectual justification for their egocentricity, racism, subjugation of women, etc. 

As I continue to criticize the dim-bulb sociopathic bully now heading our federal government and who is ever pushing himself to the forefront in photo ops—the individual who is destroying the welfare of humanity and the environment that sustains us—please think long and hard when he whines over public television, or tweets fatuously, about such honorable institutions as the New York Times (which was founded in 1851, the same year as Port Townsend, and has won 122 Pulitzer Prizes for journalistic achievement).

Unable to debate the obvious problem, which is don’t-bother-me-with-details Donald, his grass-roots underlings sputter helplessly and attempt to denigrate or humiliate mere messengers of reality such as I and kindred spirits.

American journalism began as a voice of concern for the common man, and it’s been doing a fine job of it for some three centuries. Cast about elsewhere for some more believable scapegoat for your hedonistic, troglodytic and narcissistic mean-spirited character flaws, Donald. You and your trolls. The lot of you are unqualified to evaluate today’s free and principled Press. You have, in general, carried us all the way back to a modern equivalent of “the times that try man’s souls.”

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DID YOU KNOW? Winston Churchill was a journalist early in his career, notably as a war correspondent in the Boer War. 

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