Local Commentary

Editorial: 1st Amendment Plaza

“Stand fast. Stand firm. Stand sure. Stand true.” While these words are not some of the most famous or poetic in history, they do appear on a plaque attached to an imposing bronze statue planted on a large rock on the edge of Los Angeles’ McArthur Park. It is the oft-overlooked statue of Los Angeles Times founder Gen. Harrison Gray Otis (1837-1917), identified as “Soldier, Journalist, Friend of Freedom.” The statue was done by Paul Troubetskoy in 1920 and shows the general with a Teddy Roosevelt-style hat pointing firmly toward something (the future, perhaps). Beneath that statue on a smaller, flatter rock, is a boy in proportionate size, with a cap, bag and knickers in the tradition of the “newsies,” holding out a newspaper in the opposite direction and yelling out something (the latest headlines, perhaps).

Those statues, especially the one of the newsboy, constitute the inspiration for the News-Press’ petition to dedicate a public space in the City of Falls Church to the legacy of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. We propose it be called “First Amendment Plaza,” and suggest it will conform perfectly with the City’s particular love for Virginia’s George Mason, the nation’s founding father best known as the author of the Bill of Rights. It was in the same era as the heyday of Gen. Otis that, 90 miles up the California coast in Santa Barbara, the newspaper there was taken over by Thomas More Storke, who penned the seven-point platform which has been adopted by the Falls Church News-Press as its own, and has appeared on the editorial page of every edition of the News-Press since 1991. You know, “Keep the news clean, fearless and fair,” and the others. The Santa Barbara newspaper was where the Falls Church News-Press’ founder, owner and editor got his start as a newspaperman in high school and learned his trade in the shadow, so to speak, of those virtuous journalistic principles. Ironically, even though such a concise articulation of basic newspaper values is rare, it was dropped by subsequent owners of the Santa Barbara newspaper after Storke sold it in the 1960s.

It will never be forgotten that, on the night of March 28, 1991, when the bell rang and the old web printing press began turning its cylinders and the first ever edition of the Falls Church News-Press began coming down the roller chute to where they’d be stacked and strapped into bundles, that our founder intoned at the top of his voice, “Let every tyrant tremble at the sound of free speech rolling off the printing press!” A little melodramatic, perhaps, and it was heard by only two others standing with him. But it was heartfelt and, after all, true.

The legacy of journalism in America has not been a good one in recent years with its uncritical reporting on the current U.S. administration. Perhaps all the more reason it needs a reminder of its grand tradition that a “First Amendment Plaza” would help provide.