“The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom.”
Those aren’t the words of editorial writers at The Boston Globe or at more than 300 newspapers throughout the country who spoke out this week in response to President Donald Trump’s branding of the media as “the enemy of the American people.”
It was John Adams who declared more than two centuries ago that an unfettered press is the backbone of a democracy.
True, Adams was writing long before the age of Twitter, Facebook or the 24/7 news cycle.
But the founding father’s words ring as true, if not more so, than they did way back when.
Editorial boards in every state, including Florida, responded Thursday to the president’s repeated attacks on reporters, news outlets and the purveyors of “fake news” --- once derided as the “lamestream media” --- just weeks after Trump whipped up hostility toward the press at a Tampa rally.
After the president singled out CNN reporter Jim Acosta, a throng of thousands bombarded the cable news reporter with jeers and obscene gestures.
One journalist who attended the event described the frenzied crowd’s rancor as “unvarnished bile” that “made you actually feel like the enemy of the people.”
While the president’s vitriol is generally aimed at the national press, the distrust of the media he’s implanted among his supporters has infected even those whose duties are to inform of activities as benign as high school soccer games.
Here’s a sample of what the Florida ed boards had to say this week:
“A free press, empowered by the First Amendment, serves as a watchdog over every level of American government, from City Hall to the White House,” the Sun Sentinel schooled.
“We aren’t the enemy. And the loose talk calling us that has to stop. Before somebody --- before the very country we all love--- gets hurt,” The Palm Beach Post advised.
“We all --- as citizens --- have a stake in this fight, and the battle lines seem pretty clear. If one first comes successfully for the press as an ‘enemy of the American People,’ what stops someone for coming next for your friends? Your family? Or you?” The Miami Herald wrote.
“Being a journalist was a thankless job well before Donald Trump started referring to the news media as the enemy of the people,” the Gainesville Sun editorial board weighed in. “Independent reporting is necessary to ensure government transparency, expose corruption and other wrongdoing, and inform the public about the consequences of the decisions made by their elected leaders.”
“We try to respond and explain. We stick to the facts. We do our best to be balanced. We can’t address the state of the national media but we can tell our readers for a fact that our locally produced content is not born of any political leaning, we’re reporting the news because that’s our job --- and for most of us our passion --- and we will do it to the best of our ability no matter what,” the Panama City News Herald wrote. “We are not the enemy of the people. More importantly, we are not your enemy.”
The editorials were published on the same day Aretha Franklin, an American icon revered by presidents, pastors and ordinary people, passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
In one of her most universal tunes, penned by Otis Redding, the queen of soul made a request echoed by journalists on the inside pages on the day of her death. “All I'm askin',” she sang, is for a little “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
13 MILLION --- AND BEYOND
Some will vote by mail. Some will vote early. Some will go old-school and vote on the actual election day. Some won’t vote at all.
But slightly more than 13 million Floridians are registered to vote in advance of the Aug. 28 primary elections, according to new figures posted online by the state Division of Elections. Democrats outnumber Republicans, but just barely, as both parties gear up for a fierce battle in November for a U.S. Senate seat and the governor’s office.
As Florida’s population has continued to grow, so has the number of voters, with 13,013,657 registered to cast ballots in the primaries. By comparison, 12.37 million were registered to vote in the 2016 primaries, and 11.8 million were registered to vote in the 2014 primaries.
Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans, but not by a lot --- 4,839,434 to 4,594,133. While both parties have seen registration increases since the 2016 primaries, the Democratic margin is about the same as it was two years ago.
Voters who aren’t registered with the Democratic or Republican parties won’t be able to cast ballots in many primary races, including the marquee race for governor. But that hasn’t stopped the trend of Floridians ditching the donkeys and the elephants and registering “no party affiliation.”
The total of so-called NPA voters has climbed to 3,493,494 --- or about 27 percent of the electorate. That is up from slightly more than 2.91 million voters, or about 23.6 percent, during the 2016 primaries.
A NEW TWIST ON GERRYMANDERING?
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead is a plaintiff in a legal challenge trying to scuttle a slew of proposed constitutional amendments placed on the November ballot by the state Constitution Revision Commission.
While individual amendments also face separate lawsuits, the petition filed at the Supreme Court targets six of the eight measures approved this spring by the commission, which has the authority to place proposals directly on the ballot.
The case centers on decisions by the commission to lump together multiple issues into single ballot proposals. For example, one of the measures, known as Amendment 9, asks voters to approve a ban on offshore oil drilling and a ban on vaping and the use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces.
The petition contends, in part, that combining disparate issues in single ballot proposals violates First Amendment rights of voters and is “logrolling” of issues that should be considered separately. It raised the specter of voters having different views of issues in the same ballot proposal --- for instance, someone could support a ban on oil drilling but oppose the vaping ban.
“This is logrolling and a form of issue gerrymandering that violates the First Amendment right of the voter to vote for or against specific independent and unrelated proposals to amend the Constitution without paying the price of supporting a measure the voter opposes or opposing a measure the voter supports,” the petition said. “This (Supreme) Court has acknowledged that the right to vote is a fundamental right that may not be abridged in the absence of a compelling and narrowly drawn state interest.”
The issue of combining multiple issues into single ballot proposals drew controversy during the Constitution Revision Commission’s deliberations.
“By bundling different proposals together, what we have done is undermine the work that we have undertaken to make sure that each one of the ballot summaries is clear and fairly informs the voters,” commission member Roberto Martinez said during a debate in April.
But member Brecht Heuchan defended the commission’s approach, saying during the debate he rejected “the notion that somehow these people are not capable of understanding basic related proposals.”
“Voters are very discerning when they go through their ballots,” Heuchan said. “They show up. They do their job, and they regularly come to conclusions that are accepted by all.”
STORY OF THE WEEK: More than 13 million Floridians are registered to vote in the Aug. 28 primary elections.