A message from Connecticut Public President and CEO Mark Contreras
Note: This OpEd also appeared today in Hearst Connecticut newspapers.
“We must look forward to a world based on four essential freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression... The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way… The third is freedom from want. The fourth is freedom from fear.”
-- President Franklin D. Roosevelt, delivered to a joint session of Congress, January 6, 1941
“Protesters have broken into the Capitol!”
-- PBS political correspondent Lisa Desjardins, reporting live during a joint session of Congress, January 6, 2021
Eighty years to the day after President Roosevelt came to the U.S. Capitol to issue his “Four Freedoms” speech, a mob of domestic terrorists brought destruction and fear to the same basilica of our country’s democracy.
It took exactly eight decades to go from one man rallying the Congress from the dais of a packed House of Representatives to a shirtless man with horns on his head terrorizing the Congress from the dais of an evacuated Senate. Meanwhile, congressional members and staff were in lockdown—protected by brave Capitol police and watched over by courageous journalists like PBS’ Lisa Desjardins.
In the same building where a nation was rallied by one president’s words, Desjardins reported live as a mob rallied by another president’s fevered conspiracies battered through the doors one floor below. Without regard to fear, Desjardins filed reports through the afternoon from a Capitol under siege.
This past Wednesday was a very sad day for America.
For almost two years during the mid-1980s, my place of work was in the U.S. Senate as a young legislative assistant for U.S. Senator Paul Simon from Illinois.
Today, I am privileged to lead Connecticut Public—the home of Connecticut Public Television and Radio and a team of Desjardins’ fellow journalists in Public Media.
As a very young person, the Senate floor was a magical, awe-inspiring place to me and—despite more than 3 decades passing—it still is. Seeing that shirtless man with the horns on his head sitting in the Senate President’s chair made me cry.
In one of her reports, Desjardins made an observation to Judy Woodruff. “The president has been a leader in the idea that if you think that you are right, you can be right—and you don’t need to consider arguments that undermine what you believe is the truth.”
But “what you believe is the truth” is not always the truth. This is where we come in.
It was no accident that FDR listed freedom of expression first, or that the U.S. Constitution lists freedom of the press in its first amendment.
The mission of the free press has never, ever been more important. Our work makes our nation and our state stronger so that when free opinions are expressed by free people, they can be reported and analyzed by journalists in pursuit of truth.
The fabric of our Constitution was stretched by the frenzied mob whose actions led to the loss of five lives and halted the verification of the presidential election—and it held strong.
The tears of revulsion I shed Wednesday afternoon turned to tears of pride that evening as Congress reconvened in the chambers once overrun by an unruly horde and later restored to the people’s elected servants.
The U.S. Capitol was built for the clash of ideas, not of arms.
In my younger days, I witnessed senators with vastly different points of view exhibit genuine friendship and respect. Some of these included Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy; Joe Biden and Chuck Grassley; Paul Simon and Alan Simpson. They engaged with one another with mutual respect and admiration. I saw this occur in my lifetime; I still have faith that I’ll see it once again in the future.
Wednesday’s events make me profoundly grateful for Connecticut Public, PBS and NPR and very proud to work alongside Hearst and all local media organizations in our shared goal to seek the truth, deliver fact-based news, dispel fear and inform the people of the Constitution State.
I can commit with confidence that despite Wednesday’s jarring events, we will do our part to make this a more perfect union—with freedom of expression and free from fear.
Mark G. Contreras is President and CEO of Connecticut Public, which is home to Connecticut Public Television and Connecticut Public Radio.