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Jay Furst: In support of the First Amendment

Jay Furst: In support of the First Amendment

Whatever's coming next for the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation after President Trump's firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, it's more important than ever that people speak out about our First Amendment freedoms.

We need independent journalists and news media free of government pressure now more than ever, to report honestly and accurately on what's happening in Washington and around the world. These are historic times. The president's news conference Wednesday and the revocation of press credentials for a CNN reporter are just the latest examples of how the administration tries daily to undermine public confidence in the nation's most important, trusted media.

American democracy can't function if political leaders are working to discredit and destroy the reputations of journalists and news media they disagree with. The press has criticized presidents since the days of George Washington, but never has an administration tried to turn the country against journalists and basic, factual reporting by relentlessly defining it as "fake news" and calling reporters "enemies of the people."

Some people say we're headed into a constitutional crisis, or that we're in one right now, as the Mueller investigation apparently moves into its final phase, but how will we know without a strong, independent press to do the basic reporting? Politicians who attack mainstream media as fake and corrupt, and journalists as "enemies" are doing real damage to our constitutional freedoms.

I was in the KTTC newsroom on Election Night, talking about election results with Tom Overlie, Caitlin Alexander and RCTC's Chad Israelson. On the wall is a poster from KTTC's corporate parent, Quincy Media, that outlines the core responsibilities of their journalists. Here are the bullet points, paraphrased:

Be accurate and never lie.

Know your rights as journalists and exercise them.

Be polite but firm in gathering facts. (Think CNN's Jim Acosta.)

Be careful in terms of personal safety. (Especially important at a time when journalists are booed and threatened at presidential rallies.)

Take pride in your work.

That's a list that every bona fide journalist in America believes in. It's the core of what we do. It's more important than ever that Americans know that and look past the partisan attacks that are putting journalists — and trust in basic facts — in jeopardy.

Jay Furst is a Rochester journalist and media consultant. This column is adapted from comments he made at a rally on the Peace Plaza Thursday night.

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