‘…Or of the press…’

One of the things that stuck out to me during my very first visit to the Newton Daily News offices was an inscription on the wall above the front desk:

“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.”

Sound familiar? Good. It means you know your rights. Or at least one of them.

It’s the First Amendment and we display it proudly in our office building. As a young reporter with only four years of experience under my belt at the time, it was an inspiring sight. It still is.

I can’t help but look at it every time I enter or exit the building, a constant reminder of one of our greatest principles.

Freedom of speech is not only my right, it is my livelihood.

The foundations of journalism are upheld by the First Amendment. Without it, reporters could face unlawful persecution, censorship or sanctions by the government.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know an Iowa reporter faced exactly that.

Andrea Sahouri, a reporter for the Des Moines Register, was arrested for doing her job and was charged with failure to disperse and interference with official acts while covering the George Floyd protests this past summer.

Police ordered protestors to disperse when one of their squad vehicles was surrounded.

Later on, Sahouri identified herself as a journalist and was promptly pepper-sprayed by a police officer: the complete antithesis of the First Amendment displayed in a single interaction.

Sahouri was rightfully acquitted by a jury last week. Not guilty, they said. Good.

This case should never have went to trial. And, apparently, Sahouri is so far the only reporter of about a dozen still facing charges after covering the protests to even stand trial, according to The Washington Post and U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Everything about this case got me riled up. No body camera footage to back up authorities’ claims. The Polk County Attorney’s dismissive tone over Sahouri’s credentials. The fact another Register reporter was near Sahouri and not arrested, which feels like the arresting officer was unjustly targeting Sahouri.

I wonder if authorities ever considered the very likely possibility that Sahouri was just doing her job. Did it ever occur to the county attorney’s office to drop the misdemeanor charges, like so many others had done? I’m absolutely baffled it went this far.

So, to those who arrested, charged and prosecuted Sahouri, I encourage you all to pay a visit to the Newton News and kindly stare at the wall.

Maybe you’ll learn something.