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Opinion: WV legislators, public should remember things ‘The Press’ can’t do


“I trust the media less than I do the government,” state Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, said during a legislative committee hearing the other day.

Millions of Americans agree with him. Millions more would if a Democrat rather than a Republican was president.

Some in the media, and that includes newspapers, magazines, television, radio and various internet entities, seem to care less for accuracy and fairness than for pushing their own agendas.

But the overwhelming majority of newspaper journalists still believe in telling the truth as fairly and completely as possible. That’s how we make our living.

Smith seems to think the press is a powerful institution to be reined in. Not really. All we can do is inform you and sometimes, suggest ways of thinking about the issues.

Perhaps we ought to examine some things the press cannot do.

Here are a few:

– We cannot arrest you.

– We cannot put you in jail or prison.

– We cannot tax you.

– We cannot take everything you own because you have broken our rules.

– We cannot force you to buy only products we approve.

– We cannot require that you spend your hard-earned money on certain things you may not need, but which we say you should have.

– We cannot force you to pay more than sellers of goods and services would like to charge, in the name of protecting interests special to us.

– We cannot insist that you go against sincerely held religious beliefs solely because powerful elitists have decreed their moral foundation is superior to yours.

– We cannot tap your phone or read your emails.

– We cannot send your sons and daughters to war.

– We cannot restrict access to potentially life saving medicines while doing little to stop the unscrupulous from distributing killer drugs.

– We cannot collect very personal information about each and every American, then carelessly allow computer hackers to get at it.

– We cannot pressure health care professionals to limit how hard they try to save your life simply because you are old.

– We cannot force you to sell your land to someone because, in our judgment, the community would benefit.

– We cannot run up enormous debts in your name.

– We cannot lessen the real value of your money.

There’s much more, but space is limited.

Sen. Smith made his feelings clear during a rather spirited debate over whether the press should have access to information about how much contractors pay employees on projects involved with the $1.5 billion highway improvement campaign West Virginia voters approved last year. A representative of the press noted the information will help newspapers — and the public — monitor whether waste and fraud occur in the megaproject.

Steve White, director of the Affiliated Construction Trades organization, supported the newspaper industry.

But the state Senate committee voted unanimously to deny access to the information. One lawmaker said allowing state government to check for fraud and waste is enough of a safeguard.

Which brings us to another thing newspapers cannot do: We cannot ensure government officials are doing their jobs.

Myer can be reached at:

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