Local Commentary

Editorial: A Celebration of the First Amendment

This week’s celebration of edition No. 1,000 of the mighty Falls Church NewsPress, a milestone in the consecutive weekly publication of the “newspaper of record” for the City of Falls Church and Northern Virginia since March 1991, is above all, a festival of the First Amendment.

Authored by none other than Virginia’s own George Mason, the First Amendment and its guarantee of free speech is the cornerstone of America’s great experiment in democracy. It’s the first thing to go when political repression arises or when control of the transmission means of its effective exercise wind up in the hands of the too few and the too powerful.

The recent spate of muzzlings represents a troubling trend, not only in Moscow but in the newsrooms of Hearst, in the case of Helen Thomas, CNN, in the case of Octavia Nasr, and most recently in the too-eager-to-judge case of Shirley Sherrod. Nothing less than presidential condemnations have come down in these cases, and so far only subsequent apology. There needs to be at least one more. Helen Thomas is the main pioneering force in the growing role of women in the media. She’s apologized for an intemperate outburst, but remains shut out and condemned. Right wing potty mouths, by contrast, are unrepentant in preaching their hate and prejudice every day. Why is it “freedom of speech” for them, but not for Ms. Thomas?

So, we are particularly pleased that Helen Thomas is among those who’ve added their names to a long list who’ve aligned in a different way to celebrate “freedom of speech” by congratulating the News-Press on the achievement of its 1,000th edition this week. She joins Virginia’s two sitting U.S. Senators, this area’s two U.S. Congressmen, a former governor of Virginia, three area state legislators, a Fairfax County supervisor and six former mayors of the City of Falls Church on that list, along with a boat load of other friends, supporters and well-wishers (see Page 16 of this edition).

The elected officials have every reason to affirm these things. It is through the exercise of free speech that they’ve been elected and their causes presented and argued in the public marketplaces of ideas. Those who downplay this great American virtue often tend to be have something to hide, ranging from hidden crimes to hidden agendas.

The fact that democratically-elected government and independent media play necessarily different roles in our democracy does not mean there should not be a mutual respect and a hearty shaking of hands over that paramount value we share: the inalienable right of all persons to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness…and a free press.

As with any newspaper, we are open to and publish letters that take us to task, fairly or unfairly, for any number of things. So it is with public officials. But we also welcome congratulations for our efforts, as do all our partners in the business of shepherding our democracy.

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