EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece
originally appeared in The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Michigan).
An attack on a journalist is an attack on democracy itself. Yet twice in less than a year our community has borne witness to attacks on journalists that lay bare fissures that distort the foundation of our free society.
The most recent incident was the attempt to physically remove Record-Eagle reporter Brendan Quealy from a meeting of a group of people who oppose mask and vaccine mandates Thursday evening at Garfield Township's Silver Lake Recreation Area. The assault is under investigation by the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Office.
The other occurred in May in Leelanau County when a man attempted to destroy a TV crew’s microphone during a visit by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. He was arrested.
Such defacing of our values indicates a woefully misguided notion that threats, even assaults, can deter journalists from doing our jobs. They belie the purpose of journalists to arrive at work each day to report newsworthy stories to our communities. It is a naive belief to think any journalist takes up the mantle for any reason other than public service.
Quealy performed his duty fairly and accurately on an issue of import to our community when an organizer of the meeting of anti-mask, anti-vaccine advocates singled him out as an “infiltrator.”
A recording of her and other attendees’ objections to his presence at the gathering betrays both the role of a journalist and of the Constitutional rights the group claims to value.
Quealy had both a right and a duty to attend the open-air meeting at the local park; to gather facts for an article he planned to write on a budding protest effort aimed at pushing back against a local school district's recent decision to institute a mask mandate.
He later told a sheriff's investigator he stood fast for both his rights and his duty when a pair of men launched a physical assault against him in an effort to halt his reporting and remove him from the meeting. They grabbed and shoved the veteran reporter, trying to take his cellphone to halt his recording of the meeting. He was punched in the face by one of the men and wrestled toward the ground. All to stop a journalist from doing his job. To stop a journalist from gathering an integral side of a story he knew would provide important information to the public.
The attacks Quealy and hundreds of other journalists around the country have endured this past few years are an alarming display of a fundamental misconstruing of the values that motivate our country's truth seekers to do their job.
Protection of our free press in the Constitution is the most important and wise decision the nation's founders made. They recognized the mission of journalism is to safeguard our democracy by covering the news without fear or favor.
During the past half-decade, journalists have repeatedly faced verbal attacks, threats and, increasingly, assaults from people who reject the truth even when it's gathered by the most dispassionate reporters. Time and again, despite bumps, bruises, broken bones, deep wounds and psychological trauma, those journalists courageously, selflessly stepped back into the fray to finish their work. The most violent example is the mass shooting of journalists in June of 2018 at The Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis.
Like many before him, less than a day after facing a physical attack, Quealy stepped back into the newsroom Friday morning to finish his work.
To serve our community.
To serve our democracy.
You can see his reporting in today's Record-Eagle. Page 3A.
Such defacing of our values indicates a woefully misguided notion that threats, even assaults, can deter journalists from doing our jobs.