“Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.” — Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 1786.
The First Amendment – Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression. Ratified 12/15/1791. 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.
By MARIA EUGENIA GUERRA
Publisher, LareDOS Newspaper
Special to the Texas Civil Rights Review
I am stung by the oddity that the Mayor of the City of Laredo chose to deal with our disparate points of view – his and mine — by ordering my newspaper removed from the City of Laredo Convention and Visitors Bureau puesto at Laredo International Airport, a spot at which I have left LareDOS every month for many, many years so that travelers and visitors to the airport can read up on the events of our community.
There are so many aspects to his actions to consider. There’s the irony that he was on his way to Anaheim to take part in Laredo’s nomination as an All American City when he instructed the CVB employee to remove the papers and committed so egregious an un-American act as censorship of the press. There is the issue of his actions in violation of the City Charter which expressly forbids him as an elected official to instruct any City employee to perform any task. As it turns out he had also earlier instructed a City of Laredo employee at City Hall to do the same, something confirmed to radio host Jay St. John who asked the Mayor if he had really had the paper removed from the CVB desk at the airport, to which the Mayor answered, “Yeah, and the ones at City Hall, too.”
There is the oddity that this elected public official, a former federal employee, an FBI agent, would have so little regard for the First Amendment (ratified in 1791) and my right to have an opinion, to be able to express it, and to be able to print and distribute a newspaper.
There is the oddity that he called me the day before he had my papers removed, and we discussed not the removal of my papers from City edifices, but his dog Princess. He is bothered that she made two cameo appearances on the cover of LareDOS in recent months and he considers this an attack on his family. It’s important, to me, to note that for all the years I have lived in this, the city of my birth, we have never had a “First Dog” or a “First Lady.” The currency of those odd coins were minted not by us but by the Mayor, and as such carry on their meaning a vain self-importance that has become repugnant to many.
There is the oddity that he would think for a nano second that ordering my papers removed from a public building paid for by my tax dollars and federal funds would for a second silence me in any measure.
My small staff of earnest writers and I have had so many thoughts about this affront to the Constitution, this affront to us. We work hard as a team to produce one of the best-written and most respected news journals from here to Austin. I say this with not a brag in my voice; others in the brethren of the noble trade of advocacy journalism – which seeks to inform, to give voice to issues and new ideas, to foment debate – have said it of us.
In the last few days we, as journalists, have all had an opinion about the Mayor’s trample on the First Amendment and specifically on our individual freedoms of expression. As we’ve conjured dictatorships that have quashed the free press – Papa Doc, Idi Amin, Sadaam Hussein, Hugo Chavez, to name just a few — we’ve no choice but to add Raul Salinas to that dishonorable company of paper thin-shelled tyrants.
One member of my staff made a very fine point of the malice in the mayor’s actions – that of having so little disregard for the relationship of our paper with our advertisers. The Mayor meant to harm us, that is clear.
It is incredible that the avowed leader of this city, a man who participates in huge decisions for a city and a country he professes so often to love, would lose sight of what makes this country great. All those God Bless America platitudes, all those unfocused soap box tirades about terrorism with which he consumes valuable City Council meeting time seem more than ever like hollow sentiments you use to fill up the air space when you are not really a leader, not really a visionary, not really respectful of the rights of others.
To what can we attribute his disdain for the First Amendment? Low blood sugar? Flight anxiety? The strains of the job? The excitement of a junket at which his city might be named All American? I can’t come up with an explanation that eclipses the importance of the role of the freedom of the press in the expectation that government and elected officials perform in the best interest of those they serve.
What was that trite campaign slogan of the Mayor’s – right man, right time? Mayor, wrong woman, wrong newspaper.