'Democracy dies in darkness.’
It sounds like the tagline of the newest Batman movie, but it’s actually the slogan The Washington Post has used since 2017. The paper used it in a Super Bowl commercial this year, and, like everything in 2019, it was met with shock, shock at the people who were shocked, and lengthy online arguments with deteriorating grammar the further you look into the comments.
It’s a bold move, for sure – to run those words, in this day and age, white font on a black screen.
But here’s something else – it’s a bold move this country needed. And we need more of it.
This is Sunshine Week, which is a week when the journalism industry comes together to celebrate access to public information and public meetings. This access is integral to American life, but it’s not something the average person thinks about every day – yet it’s something that affects every person every day.
You don’t have to spend hours looking through records and attending public meetings, because a journalist does it for you.
The free press was so important to the founders of this country they saw fit to write its existence into the Constitution of the United States. They knew government itself needed a check outside of its built-in checks and balance system. The watchmen need watching, and that’s where journalists come in – to spread the word to the people.
Somewhere along the way, that got lost in the mainstream media. It’s a lot more fun to watch and read things based on opinion or designed for entertainment, so in an effort to keep up, the media eschewed journalism for celebrity news and opinion pieces. Donald Trump called it fake news on his way to the White House, the moniker stuck, and all of the sudden people believed – of all things – the federal government over the people who dedicate their lives to low-paying careers with the goal of shining a light on the truth.
There’s a big difference between journalists and TV talking heads. It’s the same difference between a real cowboy, who’s out there riding fences and making a living with his rope, as Chris LeDoux would say, and an actor playing a cowboy on TV. You’d never confuse Glen Campbell in rhinestones for a ranch hand from LaGrange. Likewise, most journalists aren’t Anderson Cooper.
Without open records and meetings, there is no journalism and by extension no way for the people to know what’s going on with their elected officials. There’d be no way to keep them honest. You can’t trust a kid not to eat an open package of chocolate pudding, and you can’t trust the government to use tax money wisely if no one is looking.
That’s why we celebrate transparency this week. It’s a joint effort between elected officials and journalists to put the people first. The United States was founded on tenets that supported a free press with access to the government. Without that balance, literally any horrifying thing is possible. For example, Adolf Hitler’s first victims were critical journalists – then he ran unchecked in the darkness.
Let’s not allow that to happen here. Let’s keep the lights on, and work to preserve our democracy by pushing for transparency in our government. It’s how we survive, and how the Great Experiment can keep working.
We can’t let it die in the dark.