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Opinion

On Independence Day, Let's Celebrate Our Free Press

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The 4th of July marks the historic date in 1776 when the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. The founders of the United States knew that independence was something to celebrate. Independence Day celebrations have evolved over time, and July 4th festivities remain an important part of American life. 

There is a strong relationship between our Declaration of Independence and the Freedom of the Press. Our Constitution places the freedom of speech and the press in its First Amendment, stating, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Today, there are a troubling number of attacks on the media. We are an easy target for words without substance. Our local county commissioners like to call The Bradenton Times “a liberal rag.” They would clearly prefer that no news source cover their many incompetencies. I am a Republican and the publisher of The Bradenton Times. We investigate the facts, publish those facts, and opine on many matters that impact your life as a resident of Manatee County. A newspaper is considered the soul of the community, and we take that role very seriously. I have always had a policy that if we get a fact wrong, let us know, and we will publish our error as visibly as the original post. I can count on one hand the number of facts we have missed and posted a correction for during the past 15 years. Sadly, our current elected officials can’t make that same claim.

The Bradenton Times was established in 2008 while I was still a Manatee County Commissioner. I witnessed an alarming loss of press covering our governments. We were down to the Bradenton Herald, which was having a very hard time financially. We once had over four news sources and nearly 30 reporters covering our local governments. If you really believe in our democracy, you need to understand that it will not exist without the media. Knowing the death spiral of local news, my goal was to ensure we had a reliable source of it for our community. Who would have known that our fledgling publication would become our county's go-to news source? This could not have been accomplished without our dedicated staff at The Bradenton Times and citizens who step forward with facts to support our news and opinions.

In an effort to counter the unpopularity caused by the facts we have reported, your county commissioners have now created their own large and expensive media department using your tax dollars. Their videos, social media posts, and press releases are intended to shield them from their unpopular actions. This is the same tactics that authoritarian countries like Russia and China use to brainwash their populations with government-controlled information. It is a dangerous attack on our democracy! Their actions in forming their own government-sponsored news spin department should concern all of us on our day of independence. 

However, the attack on the media does not stop with their newly formed propaganda department. Our reporters have been warned that they are making powerful people angry. I have had code enforcement ordered to focus on properties I own and private investigators were hired to try to dig up dirt on me. Once again, the tactics of an authoritarian regime—not what you expect from self-proclaimed conservative Republicans. I volunteered to serve my country as a Marine and continued that call to service for 22 years as a Manatee County Commissioner. Mitch, our editor, was a Captain in the Army. We are both Republicans, for the record, and our agenda is to hold our government accountable.

It is clear that some of our Republicans, who are really not so conservative with our tax dollars and employ tactics used by Putin, would rather call names than be honest with the people they serve. However, it is our freedom, and we should not take it for granted. It slips away slowly when we are not vigilant. When our elected officials serve the people with the money that gets them elected via those nasty mailers and text messages, we have moved from a democracy serving all the people to a form of authoritarianism we see in Russia and China. It is up to “we the people” to be vigilant and vote out elected officials who only serve their oligarchs. Does this definition sound like what we are experiencing? It enables economic elites and corporations to influence public policy to their advantage, often against the preferences of the majority of ordinary citizens. 

Thank you to all who read our publication and especially those who contribute. We offer our news for free, but it is not free to publish. We do not turn a profit, and all the money goes toward our production costs. I urge you to join so many others who are investing in our freedom with a contribution by clicking here. Another easy way to help is to email five people and urge them to subscribe and read our publication. There is power in numbers, and we need to reach more people.

Now more on our history….. 

Independence Day wasn’t supposed to be on July 4. In the spring of 1775, after more than a decade of agitation against British policies and the first battles of the War for Independence, the 13 American colonies sent representatives to the First Continental Congress, which was hosted in Philadelphia. After much debate about severing ties with Britain, the representatives voted unanimously for independence on July 2, 1776.

It was reported that on the next day, in a letter to his wife, Massachusetts Representative John Adams said the date “ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Many Continental Congress representatives worried that a vote on independence wasn’t enough: They wanted to explain their decision to the world. So, two days after its momentous vote, the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence and sent copies throughout the fledgling country.

The declaration bore the date of July 4, which the new nation embraced as Independence Day.

July 4 also remains a day for making a commitment to the country, as the Declaration of Independence's signers did in 1776 when they pledged “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” to securing American independence.

The 56 delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence came to be known as the nation's Founding Fathers, and the Declaration has become one of the most circulated, reprinted, and influential documents in world history.

In closing, we can only lose the shining light of freedom we inherited if we stop the fuel that keeps that light shining. You and I are that fuel. Together, we can ensure that future generations are passed a government of and for the people and not a government just for those who want to dictate their will. While money drives our elections, no money can exceed that of informed and active citizens. Yes, it takes time, and sometimes we feel defeated, but it is essential that we never give up. So many have fought to the end, giving their life for us to be free. We almost lost the War of Independence, but we owe those who fought to make us free, battling in freezing fields with limited supplies, to be active supporters of freedom and never take it for granted. 

Our founding fathers had such profound words declaring our independence, stating, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,...”

Future generations are counting on our generation not to ignore this critical responsibility. 

Joe McClash is the publisher of The Bradenton Times. He is a Marine Corps veteran who served on the Manatee County Commission from 1990 to 2012.

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  • kmskepton

    Thank you for keeping us well-informed.

    Thursday, July 4 Report this

  • Cat L

    You are very much appreciated, thank you for continuing to serve.

    Thursday, July 4 Report this

  • san.gander

    Appreciate both you and Dennis, but the days of honesty in the Republican Party has totally vanished. Perhaps it started downhill with southern racist democrats joining the party after the Civil Rights Act passed. With Nixon, I thought the party reached its nadar. But it seems any concern for the well being, or actual progress of poor or middle class Americans has vanished. Only a few lone Republicans now put the well-being of their country first! Most have become a herd of self-loving, facist-loving anti-democracy crazies. If Trump told them to drink the "Koolaid" many might!

    Republicans long cease to be the noble Republicans of Abe Lincoln's day, when they went to war to preserve the United States, and end the systemic evils of black slavery in the southern half of the country. What are they now? Voices in the wilderness!

    Thursday, July 4 Report this

  • hawkharbor

    Joe, excellent posting, I will always and have always promoted and protected the free press. Keep it up Mike Bennett

    Thursday, July 4 Report this

  • ruthlawler

    Thank you! "While money drives our elections, no money can exceed that of informed and active citizens." So true. Our local oligarchs are Beruff, Neal and other developers, and their henchmen are Pedicini, KVO and others. Your publication of Bradenton Times has been invaluable to informing local residents. Ruth Lawler

    Thursday, July 4 Report this

  • shannikafarnsworth

    I appreciate the Bradenton Times more than you can imagine. To me, it represents “free press”.

    Thank you.

    Friday, July 5 Report this

  • Debann

    KEEP UP THE GREAT FIGHT..PROUD SUBSCRIBER

    Friday, July 5 Report this

  • Charles

    The free press is so important — look again at the First Amendment to note the other things slipping away via the corruption we all can see: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    Count those under threat today. Without this publication the actions intended to return us to authoritarian rule could pass unnoticed — TBT is so important. Thank you.

    Saturday, July 6 Report this

  • Dianna

    Once upon a time prior to 2016, I thought I was an informed citizen because I read a popular printed local newspaper and watched local tv media. After a corrupt code enforcement incident, I began watching BoCC meetings where I discovered that this printed publication was NOT covering exactly what was happening during the meetings, nor was the local tv news media- they either glossed over it or covered it up. The Bradenton Times, however, WAS accurately covering and exposing the important items in our local government, investigating the corruption, and exposing them. We value your posting of the facts, documents, video clips, and the LWV meeting notes. We appreciate your accuracy, your efforts, and we applaud and appreciate you!

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • SueFrank52

    Hello,

    I read your very informative article and liked what you wrote very much. I purchased a yearly subscription & look forward to reading the truth of what’s happening in our government.

    Thank you for your service in The Marines & in County Government & publishing The Bradenton Times.

    Sincerely, Susan Franklin

    Monday, July 8 Report this