Death in the dark

Quite a few news organizations have slogans that are intended to reflect their goals or missions.

Some, like ours, are fairly innocuous — “Maui’s Newspaper Since 1900.” Pretty simple, we focus mainly on life here on Maui.

Others are more ambitious. The New York Times — “All The News That’s Fit To Print.” It wants to be the journal of record for an entire country, if not the world. Since the mid-1980s, The Wall Street Journal has been “The Daily Diary Of The American Dream.”

None has stirred the controversy that surrounds the announcement by The Washington Post that it has adopted a new slogan — “Democracy Dies In Darkness.”

Critics charged that it is a direct response to the Trump administration’s attempts to delegitimize much of the mainstream media. But the Post explained that the search for a slogan began well before Donald Trump had won the Republican nomination for the presidency.

According to the Post, owner Jeff Bezos “apparently heard the phrase from legendary investigative reporter Bob Woodward, a Post associate editor . . . but Woodward, who has used the phrase in reference to President Nixon for years, said he didn’t coin it; he read it some years earlier in a judicial opinion in a First Amendment case.”

“It goes way back,” Woodward said. “It’s definitely not directed at Trump. It’s about the dangers of secrecy in government, which is what I worry about most. The judge who said it got it right.”

The Post said Woodward apparently got it from a ruling by Judge Damon J. Keith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in a pre-Watergate era case. Keith concluded that the government couldn’t wiretap individuals without a warrant. In his decision, Keith apparently coined a variation on The Post’s motto, writing that “Democracy dies in the dark.”

Whether it is county officials preferring executive sessions to sunshine, presidents believing leaks are more dangerous than the facts they uncover, or the surreptitious recording of American citizens, there are constant temptations to those in power to tilt toward tyranny. Democracy’s only protection is keeping those officials’ actions in the full light of day. That’s the duty of news organizations.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.