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Commentary: In the era of 'fake news,' defending the press is more important than ever

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A free media separates us from tyrannical societies today, as it has since before America's Revolution

Image source: YouTube screenshot

The "fake news" media is the bane of existence for many conservatives of late, as countless, blatant cases of clear bias have been exposed in the American press — not only in recent times but going back decades.

Only a steadfast member of the far-left tribe would deny it. We, on the right, grab onto that reference with a vengeance, because President Trump — whether you love him or hate him or sit somewhere in the middle — struck a chord with so many of us through his label for embellished or downright false reporting.

It's good to call out dishonesty in the media. It's healthy to demand the truth. It's imperative that we encourage discord — that's what our Founders envisioned and crafted.

But as I've covered international stories, I've found it alarming and disappointing how some readers have shared strikingly callous feedback in response to news of reporters being murdered — even by their own governments.

Referring to a story about Russian journalists who were killed by unknown operatives and another about how Turkey holds more journalists in prison than any other country in the world, we received numerous comments on social media saying something along the lines of: "Who cares? They're journalists."

Here's why it matters (besides the obvious fact that we're talking about human beings): In the past year alone, I've held back on publishing reports from South Africa, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, and Myanmar — because the sources simply weren't solid enough to deliver you the truth with a straight face.

Those governments are all notorious for controlling and suppressing news and statistics, and their tactics work. When reporters are censored (or worse), governments can hide behind the veil of God-knows-what.

Silencing or regulating our own media would make us no better. One of the great things about America is that we know we have a free media — for better or for worse — and we carry discernment over what we take away.

I hear and see too many heartfelt cries from victims across the world who have no voice, and it causes me to shake my head at the liberties we take for granted here at home. The absence of free media in some parts of the world too often keeps me from telling you (as the late Paul Harvey used to say) the rest of the story — or any of it at all.

What's been the most difficult is hearing the stories of people still trapped within tyrannical states, who reach out to me because they want to stop corruption but can't disclose their situation out of fear that their identities could be exposed, compromising their potential for freedom.

I'll be the first to roll my eyes over the rampant use of anonymous sources relied on in today's breaking news. But even if what's being reported is pure baloney every now and again, it's better that journalists in this country don't have to fear torture or death from the government in their domestic endeavors. Besides, we can (and do) vet out the baloney through the luxury of multiple sources and vigorous online freedom.

Allow me to remind you of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was barbarically killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. His name isn't brought up much these days, but it should be. His death signaled to many the emergence of a new threat in the world — and to civilized society entirely.

Pearl's life was lost during his pursuit of the truth at its source, and what he found — certainly in the method he found it — horrified everyone with an ounce of heart in them. His abductors sent a message to the United States saying: "We give you one more day if America will not meet our demands we will kill Daniel. Then this cycle will continue and no American journalist could enter Pakistan."

The captors subsequently beheaded Daniel in a viral display.

I assure you, dear reader, that the number of good journalists far outweighs the bad.

To the minority of people who equate journalists to absolute demons, please be reminded that there are countless folks across the globe behind bars right now, imprisoned because of their knowledge. There are countless more whose stories went with them to the grave. Some of those tales are lost to the ages, and others will take ages to emerge.

Suppressing the media equates to suppressing society. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The only security of all is in a free press."

The public must be incessantly discerning, while eagerly seeking the truth. It is therefore imperative that we, as Americans, also remember the importance of embracing the freedom of the press in order to, in turn, preserve our own liberty.

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