LANDESBERG: Shine the light of journalism on white supremacists

White supremacists stand behind their shields at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Stay with me on this. I support the recent Charlottesville march of Nazis and white supremacists. I don’t want to limit their free speech and assembly any more than I want someone to limit mine. I don’t want government or any entity to decide what speech or what march is OK and what isn’t. I don’t want someone to decide my beliefs are un-American and should be censored.

We’ve been there before. It doesn’t end well. But we’ve also seen how badly it ends when Nazis or white supremacists try to prevail. They have rightfully been relegated to the dust bin of history yet they seem, like the proverbial nuclear-war-surviving cockroach, to keep coming back. If we all do our jobs right, having them out in the sunshine will be the best thing for our country.

Still with me? Let them march. And let our good and true media cover what these supremacists do and what they say. Let journalists do what they do best: pour sunshine into dark places.

Cowards and vermin don’t like the sun. Let these people who claim to be superior stand up in public and show their faces. Not all evil people are knuckle-draggers who drool on themselves. Some are well dressed, well educated, and well spoken. Some may be our neighbors or coworkers.

We need to be able to see them. We need to know who they are.

Now is the time to support local and national journalists who can contextualize what is going on in our country and know how to cover a story without hype. There is enough heat in our nation that no one needs to add to it for the sake of ratings or clicks. The shoutfests that have become a stable of cable news add nothing to our understanding of issues.

The best journalists — and there are many — are in it for the right reasons. They understand that their constitutional right of freedom of the press comes with an ethical responsibility: to serve the public, all of us, by informing and helping us understand complex issues.

There is also the responsibility to expose those who would harm us whether that harm comes from people whose good-sounding ideas mask the fact that they are morally bankrupt or the harm is in the form of domestic terrorists who would aim their speeding car into a crowd of peaceful protestors in a quiet college town.

Passionate hard-working journalists, who can be found in my town and yours, have a responsibility to remind our elected leaders that they work for us. They need to keep asking politicians the hard questions that make sure they can’t hide in the dark.

Our leaders need to be constantly reminded that the emails and memos they write belong to the people. And journalists need to make sure elected leaders remember that what they do and say should reflect the highest American ideals, not pander to their perceived political base.

But let’s get back to the Nazis. I still want to see them and I still want everyone to see them. I am even willing to help provide some entertainment for their next rally. I suggest we all chip in to rent one of those photo booths and that we encourage them to have their picture taken … maybe even provide emails so that we can know how to get in touch.

The constitution provides protection for free speech. It does not protect anyone from the consequences of that speech.

Rich Landesberg ([email protected]) is an associate professor of communications at Elon University in Elon, N.C.