Since the storming of the US Capitol Building by supporters of President Donald Trump, we have been bombarded by news and analysis by mainstream commentators and journalists. Now the inauguration is behind us. There is a new Administration. Poetry still floats in the air. Now there is time for some journalistic introspection.
Reporters shield themselves with legitimate First Amendment protections. Yet today some journalists are still using overheated prose and alarmist rhetoric and are pushing elected public officials to undermine our First Amendment rights to Free Speech and Assembly.
Everyone who values the First Amendment needs to consider this point of view, which for me was shaped by participation in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but also by becoming a working journalist in late 1968 at my college newspaper, the University of Denver Clarion. I first worked at the student newspaper as a photographer.
One day I was assigned to cover a demonstration of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the leading radical Left movement on college campuses in 1968-1970. I snapped a picture of an SDS demonstrator who was assaulted and left bleeding from a head wound on the sidewalk. Racing back to the newspaper darkroom I developed the film negative and printed the photo on paper. (These were the days before cell phones and electronic cameras).
“Great photo” said the editors…. “now write the story. Thus, I ended up a journalist. My byline and photographs have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Sun Times, Boston Globe, Liberation News Service and High Times Magazine. That’s quite a spectrum!
In journalism we are taught to avoid “Weasel Words.” The term “Extremism” was promoted in the 1960s to vilify and denigrate political activists outside the political center, which is largely delineated as being elected officials and folks in the Republican and Democratic Parties.
Remember the lessons of the “Witch Hunts” of the McCarthy Period? We should not make the same mistakes again.
Chip Berlet served over 30 years on the Board of the Defending Dissent Foundation. He is co-author the book “Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort,” which warned of the rise of a populist far right Presidential candidate. A forthcoming book from Routledge traces his journalism and scholarship. Berlet is publicly releasing much of his journalistic work and images here.