Newspaper Editor, Activist, John Seigenthaler Dies At 86 http://t.co/1oqd7bAVx8
— NPR Business (@nprbusiness) July 11, 2014
I have been privileged to know a few giants of journalism, but none bigger than John Seigenthaler, who died today.
One of the special privileges of leading a few seminars a year for the American Press Institute from 2005 to 2008 was that we took every seminar to the Freedom Forum for a session on the First Amendment, led by John or Ken Paulson or often both. It was a treat that never grew old.
John and Ken would educate and engage the group in a quiz and discussion about the First Amendment and the five freedoms it guarantees (can you name them?). Each question resulted in fascinating stories about our freedoms being tested and protected.
John didn’t boast about his past, but it was glorious and fascinating: close friend of Bobby Kennedy, former editor of the Tennesseean and much more. When I met him, he was already pushing 80 and leading the First Amendment Center. His explanation to an API seminar of his fight to correct his Wikipedia biography told much about him: To demonstrate to a friend that anyone could post anything on Wikipedia, a vandal had changed John’s biography to say he was a suspect in the Kennedy assassinations. It was a horrible character assassination of a man who was a pallbearer at Bobby Kennedy’s funeral. John could have corrected the entry himself, but editing your own entry is a violation of Wikipedia rules and John followed the rules, calling the offense (and the number of times it had been replicated around the Internet) to the attention of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and eventually to the whole country in a USA Today first-person account.
When I heard him tell the story firsthand, he told it with no bitterness, though you could hear and see the hurt that the incident caused. He laughed at the legal absurdities of the case and used it to explain the Communications Decency Act and its place in First Amendment law and history.
I remember hoping that I could be as gracious if ever hurt so profoundly.
The First Amendment is in danger today in so many ways. I hope my generation and my children’s and grandchildren’s will produce First Amendment champions as eloquent, knowledgeable and gracious as John. We need voices like his, and the strongest one has just been silenced.
I’ll do my small part to continue John’s work by listing those five freedoms here (and many more times to come): religion, speech, press, assembly, petition:
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.