Washington Post editor: Press exists to hold government accountable

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‘Important time for journalism in this country’

By Bradley Wilson
CMR Managing Editor

When Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron spoke to a crowd of hundreds of college journalists at the National College Media Convention, sponsored by the College Media Association and Associated Collegiate Press, he was rather unassuming. For a man who has worked for the Miami Herald, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times and who has been portrayed in the movie Spotlight for leadership at the Boston Globe and coverage of the Boston Catholic sexual abuse scandal that earned the Globe a Pulitzer Prize in 2003, he seemed rather quiet.

But that’s just on the surface.

When it comes to standing up to the president of the United States or for the First Amendment, Baron is far from unassuming.

Baron acknowledged from the outset to a crowd of hundreds of college journalists, “This is a really important time for journalism in this country. Obviously our profession has come under assault primarily from this White House down the road, and so we have to be thinking a lot about what our profession is all about and what our role is in a democracy. We find ourselves having to defend ourselves in a way that we haven’t had to do in quite some time.”

Still, he saved his punchline for the end — truth and facts do not depend on someone’s opinion, who holds the most power or what’s the most popular.

He said the press has an important role to tell the truth as nearly as it may be ascertained.

“Getting at the truth is difficult,” he said. “It’s really hard. It’s difficult.”

The discussed that journalism has not always had an easy time in this country noting that the first newspaper in this country was shut down immediately and early administrations helped shut down newspapers and jail editors.

“We’ve come through those really difficult periods,” he told the crowd.

Then he launched into a bit of a history lesson, referring to the creation of the First Amendment and the founding of our government.

“We have a democracy. There are institutions in this democracy that are critical to its proper function. That includes the executive branch, the presidency. It includes Congress. And it includes the courts. And it also includes the press.”

But he also referenced historical times including the passage of the Sedition Act and the Espionage Act and a second Sedition Act. “There were extreme measures taken against those who dared to criticize government.”

But Baron acknowledge that “The reason that the press exists is to hold the government accountable. Over time, it’s become recognized that our job is to not only hold those in government … accountable but hold all powerful individuals accountable and all powerful individuals accountable.”

“We have a lot of important work to do.”