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Column

Mayor’s treatment of the press smacks of authoritarianism

That Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk quashed questions from a Joliet Herald-News reporter at a public meeting over the police shooting of an armed robbery suspect allegedly brandishing a box cutter, and passed judgment over the newspaper’s coverage of the story, has a whiff of authoritarianism in it, not unlike the smell of rotten eggs you get when you are too close to an oil well. If you get too close to such an oil well, you die from the fumes of hydrogen sulfide gas whose smell is a warning to stay away.

I know something about hydrogen sulfide gas as a news reporter in a previous profession whose beat was the oil fields of a small town in New Mexico. I even produced an instructional documentary on it, “In One Breath,” for the Association of Oil Well Servicing Contractors.

I produce documentaries even now, and not too long ago, I wrote commentaries for The Herald-News. That makes me a journalist, albeit one who is freelance. I wonder if O’Dekirk would have stopped me from asking questions.

I have nothing but respect for O’Dekirk, whose service to this country and to the people of Joliet is beyond reproach, but for this singular dispute over his credentials to block the media from doing its duty to ask questions of authority. Good gosh almighty, dare I say the press should ask questions of the community’s locally elected officials? What right does the press have to exercise such audacity?

Tucked away in the local library is a copy of the Constitution, and just as a publicly shamed Gold Star parent of a slain veteran of Muslim faith asked the shamer, Donald Trump, if he had read it, I ask the same question of our mayor.

I would like to address the mayor in the second person pronoun: You are accountable to the public, and the professional accountants who are tasked with that responsibility are the journalists of the local newspaper and broadcast media.

The news is accountable to the public whose citizens do not have the same resources as the legitimate news in gathering facts, interpreting them and reporting them in a way that is understandable to the public.

News people do that; They are trained for it, and by and large, they do their jobs for the joy and love of what they do, not for the money, but because they believe that they contribute to the underpinnings of what makes this free society stand apart from third world countries and authoritarian superpowers.

That job has grass roots that are grown right here in a town like Joliet, where reporters deign to ask for more details that fully round out the justification, or lack thereof, for a police shooting such as the one reported.

In a free society, anyone can ask those questions, but no one can do so with the power of informing the public than the press.

Like it or not, and I frankly don’t give a damn if you do, that’s what the founders intended for this country.

Stick to fighting for repairs to Interstate 80, Mayor O’Dekirk. That’s what your good at and we thank you for it. Stay out of the press’s job.

• Glenn Gummess is a Joliet resident.

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