Galveston meeting and First Amendment musings

I was delighted to see how many TPA members defied the inclement weather and traveled to Galveston for the TPA’s 2015 Midwinter Conference and Trade Show. At last count there were approximately 290 in attendance which was an increase over last year’s conference in Frisco.

It is always good to meet and see old friends, but this year I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to meet and visit with Joe Galloway. He spoke after our Friday night dinner and immediately before the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

As the only civilian recipient of the Bronze Star for Valor during the Vietnam War, Joe spoke passionately about his love for the American warrior and contrasted it with his hatred of war. In 1992 he co-authored the book “We Were Soldiers Once...And Young” with Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore in which they told the story of the 1965 Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, the first major engagement between regulars of the U.S. Army and regulars of the People’s Army of North Vietnam.

The book would later be made into the movie “We Were Soldiers” starring Mel Gibson as General Moore and Barry Pepper as Joe Galloway.

I also enjoyed the induction of Ken Towery, Leon Hale, Houston Harte and Bernard Hanks into the Texas Newspaper Hall of Fame. I was especially pleased that Alice Gilroy could be on hand to accept for her father, Ken Towery. Kathy and I first met Alice when she was publisher of the Floydada Hesperian-Beacon.

Also a treat was the dinner that the TPA executive board hosted on Thursday evening for all of the past president’s in attendance. There were fourteen past presidents at the dinner and we took the opportunity to pose for a group photo. Bill Berger, TPA president 1963-64, was the senior member of the group.

I took the liberty to open the conference with a brief statement about the tragic murder of journalists and editorial cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper in Paris. Later, several in the audience asked for a copy of my comments. I was unable to provide them at the time, because I carried only an outline to the podium. 

But, TPA Publications Manager Allison Perk recorded the program with her smart phone and was able to extract a fairly good transcript for me. I referred back to my outline and to my memory to fill in the holes. So, what follows is, to the best our collective ability, an accurate representation of my opening remarks at the Friday luncheon on January 23rd.

“Welcome to the TPA Midwinter Conference where we find ourselves a long way from home...and some of us a long, log way from home. And, why are we here?

“We’ve come together to share ideas, learn what we can do to improve our papers, renew friendships and make new ones. It is my pleasure to be here with you today and, as is the custom, Texas Press Association Staff...and they are great, by the way...have prepared this wonderful script for me. But, in light of what transpired a couple of weeks ago in Paris, I ask for your indulgence as I deviate for a moment from the prepared program.

“My wife Kathy and I purchased the paper in Eldorado in 1994. We came to the business along an unusual path. You see, I was in the oilfield when the market turned south and the newspaper business sounded like an easy job.

“So we bought a tiny paper in a tiny town in a remote part of Texas where we never expected to cover national news or breaking news. Then one day, one of those national news stories landed on our doorstep.

“I don’t know how many of you are aware, but our town was the town where the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints...Warren Jeffs and his crowd...decided to call home.

“We had a polygamist sect in our town and just one day after we broke the story in 2004, we started getting death threats.

“I know we aren’t the only ones. Many of you have been threatened, if not physically, then at least financially, because of the stories you publish.

“So it was with all of that in mind, that I learned about the tragedy that transpired in Paris. Now realize, I would probably never have read that paper and most likely would not agree with the cartoons they publish, but they did so for many years under a very real and ever present threat. And, the way they responded...what they did, what they said... did not warrant their execution for simply carrying out what they saw as their job.

“So, what do we do?

“We can hold up a pen and have a moment of silence and that’s all appropriate and there’s nothing wrong with that.

“But I suggest that there is more that we should do. Because when freedom of the press is threatened, freedom of speech is diminished and freedom of expression is attacked anywhere, it is attacked everywhere.

“When a journalist is silenced and others are cowed into submission, we all lose.

“So I ask again, what do we do?

“Well, I suggest instead of symbolic protests, we turn ourselves to honoring those who died by working hard everyday at what we do.

“Let us get to work improving our craft. Let us resolve to go home and commit good journalism. Let us give voice to downtrodden...inspiration and aid to the helpless.

“We should recognize that all too often people are unwilling, for whatever reason, to speak truth to power...so we should do it for them.

“We should cover the small news just as diligently as we cover the large news. And we should remember that our communities are counting on us to do what is necessary to tell the truth, and to deliver the news...good or bad. And, I suggest to you that that is a worthwhile endeavor and a worthy response.

“Thank you.”