The ultimate friend of the people

Oliver Emmerich, a conservative Mississippian who founded the company that has owned this newspaper for decades, understood more than most the danger of championing a free and independent press. During the tumultuous summer of 1963, the KKK burned crosses at his home and newspaper office, the Enterprise-Journal in McComb. The paper’s response was a simple yet courageous and effective one: Publish stories about that domestic terrorism on its front page, the very thing the attackers meant to prevent from happening.

Today, when the leader of the free world repeatedly stokes the fire against journalism by calling reporters the enemy of the people, it’s worthwhile to remember Mr. Emmerich’s thoughts about what a newspaper should be. He wrote the following creed, which has come to be known as “The Oliver” over the years:

“A newspaper is an instrument of public trust, privately owned but solemnly dedicated to the common weal; the crystal mirror of our daily trials and triumphs; the editorial obligation to be as just with men and measures as human imperfection will permit; a crusading force which accepts with courage the challenge of controversy, greeting hostile ideas with hospitality, understanding well that public debate is a factor in public progress; the sacred pledge to promulgate the civic, cultural and spiritual well being; the covenant to study, investigate, analyze so as to place reason and logic ahead of emotionalism and hysteria; the duty to interpret constitutional ‘Freedom of the Press’ as meaning the freedom of information to all, a torch to the many, not the flame for the few; and above all the will to be sympathetic, understanding and sincere.”

In our divided society, those attributes are what journalism needs to continue to strive, lest we lose democracy. That means being both truthful and fair to all sides, respecting those who disagree and using the power of the pen for the public good, not individual gains.

That’s certainly different than the overt partisanship seen on cable TV news and the hysterical clickbait that dominates internet reporting; newspapers remain the sole institutions who can live up to the standards of “The Oliver.” Thousands of them do it every single day in communities throughout this great nation. They are the ultimate friend of the people.

To attack them is to attack our own selves. We know what Christ — and later quoted by Abraham Lincoln — said about the inevitable fate of a house divided against itself.

We believe America is better than that, though. Let us continue to stand up for the First  Amendment right to a free press, as well as religion, speech, assembly and petitioning government when we disagree with what it does.

 Those rights are the backbone of our nation’s unprecedented success, and we believe they will continue to be for centuries to come.

— Charlie Smith