June 3, 2020 10:59:06 AM
"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or a newspaper without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter."
-- Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson understood how critical it was that our leaders be held accountable to the people and the best tool to achieve that was through the media of his day, an independent voice protected specifically in the U.S. Constitution.
Examples of this abound in our history and new examples emerge daily all across our nation.
Today, we see the fruits of the free press in our own state.
The Mississippi Department of Health will begin releasing the names of long-term care facilities (LTCs) in the state where residents have died of COVID-19.
Sadly, the MSDH, whose overwhelming priority should always be to serve the public interest, did not do this of its own volition. The reason this information is now available is because newspapers throughout the state demanded it.
As a result, citizens will soon know the names of the facilities where, as of Monday, 395 of the state's 767 COVID-19 deaths have occurred. That information is crucial for people with family members in LTC facilities.
After MSDH refused to fulfill a Freedom of Information Request, a Hattiesburg paper sued the department. Similarly, a Jackson paper filed a complaint with the state ethics commission. Other newspapers, including The Dispatch, wrote editorials demanding the release that information. The Mississippi Press Association, which represents newspapers throughout the state, joined the chorus of those demanding the MSDH do the right thing.
Late last week, the Hinds County Chancery Court ruled MSDH must release the information. Today, MSDH has started listing the LTCs with deaths on its website, though it continues to tell the public not to request additional data.
This may be viewed as a victory for the press, but in a larger sense, the victory belongs to the people of our state. The press -- and newspapers in particular -- was the means by which the peoples' demands were heard and ultimately satisfied.
This happens every day across our nation. Newspapers in large cities and small towns hold officials accountable for the benefit of the people.
2. Slimantics: Beyond the pain, there is potential LOCAL COLUMNS