Joe Henderson: Free press needed now more than ever - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Free press needed now more than ever

The job of the free press is to find out stuff the public needs to know, make sure it’s accurate, and then share that information with the people.

A lot of times the mission means upsetting the powerful and those who support them. These days, it means enduring taunts of “fake news” and people who believe reporters deliberately publish fiction designed to destroy, in this case, President Donald Trump and his administration.

To some, the “media” is even a faceless, soulless agent of the deep state out to ruin the country, but it is none of those things. It is the firewall that protects democracy from the scoundrels and con artists.

So, that’s why Florida Politics has joined with newspapers, online outlets, and other media around the country to denounce what The Boston Globe has called a ‘‘dirty war against the free press.’’

Trump started that war while still a candidate for the most powerful office in the world. As president, he has declared the press is the enemy of the American people. That’s not exactly upholding the oath of office he took, the one where he promised to “preserve, protect and defend” the U.S. Constitution.

The First Amendment to the Constitution clearly states “Congress shall make no law … “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …”

The Founding Fathers understood that absolute power corrupts and that an unfettered press is a vital check on lawmakers who believe rules don’t apply to them.

But it’s not just about keeping Washington honest.

This past week, the Tampa Bay Times illustrated what the free press means to our local community.

The Times, with painstaking research and reporting, uncovered that top officials at the Hillsborough County School District knew about a widespread problem of lead in the drinking water at multiple schools for over a year, but didn’t share that information with the public.

They came clean only after reporters at the Times began nosing around and asking tough questions. Without the effort and skill of the local newspaper, no one might have ever known what was going on.

The recent attack at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. resulting in six deaths illustrates that this can be a dangerous mission. The International Federation of Journalists reported that 62 journalists have been killed around the world thus far in 2018.

Several of those deaths occurred while reporters were trying to cover bloody conflicts in war-torn areas. At the Tampa Tribune where I worked for more than 40 years, we learned the cost that can come with reporting dangerous but important stories.

An ambitious young reporter named Todd C. Smith used vacation time in 1989 to travel to Peru so he could report on drug trafficking. He never got to finish the story. He was kidnapped by Shining Path guerrillas, tortured, and murdered.

Do journalists get it wrong sometimes?

Of course.

And for reputable publications, there are consequences for that — unlike some of the conspiracy sites out there masquerading as real news. Reputable sites admit their mistakes and correct them. They hold reporters to high standards of honesty and accuracy.

An editor at the Tampa Tribune once spoke of the “multiple layers of inspection” a story had to undergo before it reached your doorstep the next morning. Real editors challenge reporters to prove that what they submitted is the truth.

That’s really what it’s about.


That can be lost when many in the public get their news from Russian bots and Facebook memes. All the press can do to combat that is to stay in the game, keep uncovering facts and sharing it with its audience, follow the stories where they lead, and never allow itself to be intimidated.

Trump is not the first president hostile to the press and he won’t be the last. But the work reporters do and the valuable part they play in our democracy won’t change.

It can’t change.

The Founding Fathers understood that, and a free press is more important now than ever.

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


  1. The President is not against an Open & Free Press… That is a manipulation of actual statements President Trump stated. He as well as the rest of us are against a Biased Propagandists who pretend to be News Reporters or Journalists. The Fake News (CNN, MSNBC & NYTimes) that compose & create false stories repeatedly to promote a Marxist (Progressive, Collectivist, Socialist, Communist, Facsist) agenda. Once a journalist attaches biased adjectives they start down a slippery slope of opinions instead of News.

  2. One of your contemporary press outlets in Florida has just proven that “NEW MEDIA” is true media and stronger than the OLD MEDIA like the herald and tribune. The discovery and actual leg work required to expose the Fake Diploma in Dist. 73 was a job that used to be done by what people still think as credible media source. NAH – not anymore. – It has been left to the “new media” to reclimate a true sense of journalism because in the commercial advertising game of news in papers and tv – you are not going to get the real news anymore. It takes too much effort and too much money. Way to go NEW MEDIA !

    Oh by the way – new media – there is a real good chance that the 1.6 million dollar home they live in – dist 73 story – is using VA fraud to avoid taxes. Any cub reports wanna talk?

  3. “Herr tRump*—born(?) in the USA—Nazi everywhere— (hair made in China).”

    *supporters–pathetic (deplorably so) indeed

  4. You don’t seem to understand that the First Amendment cuts both ways. We the citizens can say you are the enemy of the people and that is just the way it is. You think that your shit does smells better then anyone else as a result of your arrogance.

    If you in the media who are owned by big multi national corporations, you know the evil conglomerates you “hate”, truly are independent then you would not be so defensive. But the truth is, the American media is the enemy of the American people!

    If you can’t handle this, go look for another line of work. No, go look for a spine.

  5. I have a reasonable amount of direct experience with “the press” . . . both good and bad insofar as the underlying integrity of individual newspapers, radio and TV news shows and commentary is concerned.

    It is a mixed bag, but for me, the necessity of a free and honest press always shone clearly through the resulting “haze” of the events and the news reports of the 1960’s national Civil Rights and Peace Movement days, and later on, in Florida, regarding affairs that took place in the 1970’s and 1980’s when I was a local union president and Florida AFL-CIO delegate.

    The beacon of light and truth shines at times in the free press today, in this complex mess in which we live. I intend to use this beacon in the days, weeks and months ahead to cast light, truth and reason on the issue of legalizing cannabis possession, use and cultivation for adults in Florida over the age of twenty-one on private property, for personal use.

    Race and sex based discrimination in conservative areas like North Central Florida, sexual harassment of women in the public workforce and the proven theft of public funds by well-known, respected and powerful “good ole’ boys” were not easy subjects to report upon decades ago, and reporters took their chances when providing honest accounts of the information they came upon when researching and reporting on such news events.

    Although I have been misquoted, taken out of context, and misrepresented to a certain extent, I was always fully aware that even the limited public view afforded people by the enlightening glare of publicity through newspaper, radio and TV news station exposure largely helped to keep the work going to reduce, if not end race and gender discrimination in our local government in the 1980’s. The day in 1983 when I exposed this on-going, far reaching conspiracy conducted by the region’s good ole’ boy network, it literally ended the on-going theft of public taxpayer funds that likely exceeded tens of thousands of dollars from the Regional Transit System (RTS) City of Gainesville and Alachua County, Florida.

    Here, the local press failed . . . no one was ever charged or convicted of this conspiracy involving high level government officials as well as other players on the political scene . . . the money allegedly going to elect local politicians who would continue racist, sexist discriminatory practices in the workplace and turn a blind eye to the source of some of their “political contributions” tainting local, state and federal officials elected in Florida. State and local newspapers, radio and TV stations were loathed to take on this explosive story. As a union local president, my primary responsibilities remained elsewhere, and not being an investigative reporter or “whistle-blower” or doing any more than I already had.

    I do not question that without a “free press” that this country would soon fall and an authoritarian government would soon come to rule . . . a free press, independent, honest with real integrity is necessary, although not always the case, even in America. Without a free press, we would be lost.

    Although many people do not regard any of our past federal governments as being overtly authoritarian, those of us in the past who have opposed U. S. government policy and practices . . . such as federal inaction on gender and race based discriminatory policies and practices even during the most violent episodes of the 1960’s that continues on today, the Vietnam War, the Reagan-Bush instigated Middle East wars, the improper, illegal CIA misconduct by interfering in numerous governments of other nations around the world and on through to some acts in these Trump times now occurring . . . we can honestly tell anyone that without the free press, our national history and the wrong-doing of our past and present local, state and federal government politicians would be far greater, far more damaging to us all.

    Today, I have taken up human and civil rights issues under the Florida Cannabis Civil Rights banner as a FLORIDIAN FOR FREEDOM (FFF) volunteer coordinator in North Central Florida, to propose a fully legal cannabis law to all voters of Florida.

    This Cannabis Civil Right campaign encompasses the human right of us all to a clean environment by highlighting the use of hemp in place of petroleum oil (with all it’s attendant problems of long term air, land and water pollution) and using hemp for paper and construction materials instead of clear-cutting vast tracts of timber land.

    “Marijuana,” or more correctly, plants of the cannabis family, were initially targeted to ban in 1937 in order to eliminate further wide scale commercial hemp crop cultivation and product use that would compete against companies promoting petroleum use for fuel and plastics, as well as timber barons selling tracts of timberland’s to cut down trees to use for paper and construction products.

    We address the criminal justice system’s crime classification and sentencing policies and practices, particularly relating to race and sex discrimination and laws that hurt our nation rather than help us. Ending the prohibition of cannabis [“marijuana” – a racist term used to conceal it was hemp and medicinal cannabis being outlawed by suggesting marijuana was a different plant] serves a strong purpose in this respect.

    Legalizing cannabis addresses both the policy and practice of economic bondage exerted through the use of pre-employment and random “drug tests” that currently identify the use of cannabis within a 30 day period, which literally means that an employee has had to surrender the right of their bodily privacy and freedom, 7 days a week, 24 hours every day in order to obtain and retain a job. Since the right of “just cause” is waived because cannabis is illegal, unions cannot protect or adequately represent their own members or the workforce of unionized industries, plants or other work sites.

    The right of patients in Florida to utilize cannabis in various ways, including inhaling cannabis smoke, remains in question due to Governor Scott recent but failed challenge of our 2016 MEDICAL MARIJUANA state constitutional law in state court, approved by over 71% of the 2016 vote. Governor Scott is supported by a cabal of Florida legislators who continue to probe for ways to profit from patient’s illnesses and pain rather than work to alleviate these concerns.

    A founding member of our state-wide non-partisan volunteer organization, Cathy Jordan of the FLORIDIANS FOR FREEDOM, (FFF) testified last month in state court and won this case, largely based upon her testimony of needing to smoke her “medicinal marijuana” rather than utilizing other methods of taking her life-saving medicine.

    However, Cathy Jordan and her husband, Bob Jordan came to fully understand that for a number of valid reasons, cannabis had to be fully legal to be available, easy to access and affordable to adults in Florida over the age of twenty-one to have the clear unassailable right to the privacy and freedom to possess, use and grow on private property, both for personal use and/or for medicinal purposes. The MEDICAL MARIJUANA law helps Cathy and Bob, but does not address the end of wholesale economic and political discrimination pertaining to the arrests, convictions, sentences and disenfranchisement of many Florida voters, due to possession, use or cultivation their own cannabis [“marijuana”], as well as a number of other non-violent infractions or violations of debatable laws now considered felonies.

    They began the Floridians For Freedom (FFF) group with the intent to propose a new state constitutional amendment ballot initiative petition for voters to consider, sign and vote to approve called the RIGHT OF ADULTS TO CANNABIS [Initiative Serial # 15-20] that makes all plants of the genus, Cannabis, including hemp, legal for adults in Florida over the age of twenty-one to possess, use and grow cannabis on private property for personal as well as medicinal use.

    Go to to read, and if you agree, to sign our petition to legalize cannabis in Florida.

    If you really like our proposed constitutional amendment law, RIGHT OF ADULT TO CANNABIS, and wish to join this people’s peaceful “political revolution” to promote this Cannabis Civil Rights campaign of 2018-2020 . . .

    . . . please print out three copies of our petition, one to sign and two more to pass along to two other Florida registered voters for them to do the same . . . print out 3 copies; sign one and pass along the other two petitions to other Florida voters and thereby create our “daisy chain” of legal cannabis petitions coming in from all 67 counties in Florida in order for us to secure the right to vote in 2020 to change our laws to recognize the legal right of adults in Florida to cannabis use.
    We need 100,000 signed petitions to be placed on the 2020 election ballot so voters can choose whether to legalize cannabis or not.

    FFF encourages voters to consider signing other legal cannabis petitions that are also circulating the State of Florida, such as the REGULATE FLORIDA petition which has paid petitioners in various areas circulating their petitions to be signed. This way Florida voters can decide whether or not to legalize cannabis, and which proposal is best to approve in 2020. Two months after the 2020 election, on Tuesday, January 8, 2021, we could have fully legal cannabis in the State of Florida.

    Contact us for more information via our website or reach out to your local area’s group of FLORIDIANS FOR FREEDOM now organizing on a county- wide basis. On Facebook, type in your county’s name, followed by Floridians For Freedom. You can contact me through either the Alachua Floridians For Freedom or the Marion Floridians For Freedom Facebook pages.

    Hope you join us soon.

  6. Donald Trump is not telling people not to trust the media. He is saying that he doesn’t trust the media, and the people are agreeing with him. If the people trusted you, columns like this would not be necessary. But you and your colleagues long ago sacrificed your credibility on the altar of your progressive/Democrat political ideals and, after decades of having things your own way, your conceit is reaping its just reward.

  7. The MSM is also here to give the debate questions to one of the Presidential candidates so they can prepare ahead of time. Not to mention the MSM has lied for years about firearm laws and statistics to further anything but a free society. You are con artist desperate for control. You were written off long before the 2018 election. Goodbye!

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