Free speech vs. freedom of the press is shown in this still from a video made by CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta at a Trump rally in Tampa.
That lady shooting the bird is exercising her right to free speech. The gentleman on the receiving end is exercising our right to a free press. She’s a citizen and maybe a small-business owner. He’s a citizen and a journalist. If they ran into each other on an airplane, they might talk about their children or their gardens, but they live in Trump World. She’s the base. He’s the press. She’s a redneck. He’s a fake. They are pitted against each other. They are enemies.
News Editor Blake Aued and I, two journalists, rode with a third, Doug Monroe, over to Atlanta last week to the wake for our journalist friend Tom Crawford at Manuel’s Tavern. Tom, as you know, operated his own news service covering the state Capitol and writing his weekly Georgia Report, which Flagpole published for the last 12 years until his declining health forced Tom to give it up.
Tom, as Doug and others reminded us in heartfelt eulogies, was super-smart, hardworking and conscientious, but he always had time for friends, and he had a lot of them. Whenever he was in Athens, he got together with us and always wanted to know what was happening over here, asking for specifics, asking how Flagpole is doing. He had that love of stories that all journalists seem to share. At Manuel’s that night, the whole back room was filled with journalists, and many of them had worked alongside Tom and had shared the late nights, the deadlines, the pressure to get it right and get it on time, after a late meeting or a late game or other late-breaking news.
One thing about Tom I had never understood was how he could work right there in the Capitol, frequently writing harsh critiques of powerful people he passed in the hall every day, and not get kicked out or at least kicked. I realized at Manuel’s that Tom in the Capitol was basically like a hometown newspaper editor. Everybody knew him and respected him, even if they didn’t like what he wrote that week. He was the press, but he was also Tom. I do not believe that Donald Trump or even his mimic, Brian Kemp, could convince the mostly Republican crowd under the gold dome that Tom Crawford was writing fake news.
“Fake, fake, disgusting news” is what Trump calls it. The lady with the bird didn’t know Jim Acosta, the CNN chief White House correspondent who was her target; she just knew that he is one of those who look down on her and her country—better educated, better paid and better dressed, with Obamacare: an abstraction, the press, the enemy of the people, even though most journalists are just as likely to be downsized out of a job as anybody else, probably more.
I know that lady. I grew up with people like her. I’d probably feel more comfortable with her than I would with Jim Acosta, but I’d probably feel OK with him, too, since he’s a journalist.
I was pondering all this when I wandered into Junk in the Trunk, the emporium filled with recycled treasures collected by people like our friends Florence King and Ginger Davis-Beck. It’s across from the post office out on Olympic Drive, and it’s where I found a hardback, first edition copy of Lewis Grizzard’s If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I’m Gonna Nail My Feet to the Ground in perfect, unread condition complete with an unblemished book jacket for $6. Grizzard is usually too good-ole-boy for my tastes, but this one chronicles his life in journalism, which began when he wrote sports for the old Athens Daily News, working his way (almost) through UGA back in the '60s and then on to The Atlanta Journal.
I guarantee you that the lady with the bird would have loved Lewis Grizzard, even though he was the press. Grizzard—like Tom Crawford and all journalists, like Homer on the windswept plains of Troy, like the kid in J-school interviewing her first county commissioner—take seriously their duty to get the facts and report them to you, so that you can know what’s going on. The press is not the enemy. Attacks by the president, his minions, his mobs and his mimics can’t change the fact that the press is the people.