On Drew Brees, NFL Quarterback, and Maria Ressa, Filipina Journalist

Filipina journalist Maria Ressa is escorted by police after posting bail in Pasig City, the Philippines, on March 29, 2019. (Eloisa Lopez / Reuters)

In my Impromptus today, I begin with Drew Brees and end with Maria Ressa. In between I have North Korea, Russia, the U.S. Congress, impeachment, John Greenleaf Whittier (a statue of whom has just been vandalized), and more. Find something that interests you.

Drew Brees, as you know, is an NFL star, the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints. He made a statement about the American flag and the national anthem that got him into a heap of trouble. Not just criticism — we have a right to raucous debate in this country — but death threats.

Would you like to know what he said? And apologized for, in the most abject terms? (His wife issued a similar apology, which began, “WE ARE THE PROBLEM.”) I quote it in my column, and would like to quote it again here.

Well, I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America, or our country. Let me just tell you what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played and when I look at the flag of the United States.

I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corps. Both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place.

So every time I stand with my hand over my heart looking at that flag and singing the national anthem, that’s what I think about. And in many cases, it brings me to tears, thinking about all that has been sacrificed.

Not just those in the military, but, for that matter, those throughout the civil-rights movements of the ’60s, and all that has been endured by so many people up until this point.

And is everything right with our country right now? No, it’s not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together, we can all do better, and that we are all part of the solution.

I rubbed my eyes when I read this statement. I did some more rubbing when I listened to it — when I watched Brees in the relevant interview on video: here.

Whatever you think of “kneeling” — the practice of kneeling during the national anthem — Brees made such a sincere and thoughtful statement. Even a touching one. How could it incur such wrath? How could it incur death threats?

Also, they chanted his name in the streets — protesters did. In the streets of New Orleans, where the QB has been a hero. “F*** Drew Brees,” they said.

A statement such as the one he made? How can it require an apology? More than one apology? How can it be a possible career-ender?

Because America is cracked, I say in my column. Yes, cracked.

Okay — and who is Maria Ressa? She is a journalist in the Philippines, and an exceptionally brave woman. You have to be brave to practice journalism — real journalism — there. Ressa co-founded a news site called “Rappler.” She, and it, have been a thorn in the side of the Filipino strongman, Duterte.

Duterte accuses her of “fake news.” Strongmen and dictators all over the world have adopted this phrase, to hurl at journalists: “fake news.” Putin, for example, wields it. Of course, he is one of the world’s leading practitioners of “fake news.”

At the end of 2018, Time magazine named a group of journalists “Person of the Year,” collectively. Maria Ressa was among them.

She was arrested in February 2019 on the charge of “cyber-libel,” and has now been convicted. A sentence has yet to be handed down. The more noise made in Ressa’s behalf, the better.

In 2017, President Trump sat next to Duterte, and reporters tried to ask Duterte about human rights. Duterte shut them down, calling them “spies.” Trump laughed.

Earlier in the year, Trump had sat next to Putin. When reporters tried to ask questions, Putin pointed at them and said to Trump, “Are these the ones who insulted you?” The two then laughed together.

Allow me to repeat what I wrote, those three years ago:

Obviously, democratic leaders have to engage in diplomacy, holding their noses, doing the necessary. If Mao asks you to play ping-pong with him, maybe you do. But democratic leaders, especially the American president, stand for something abroad.

Putin is not just anti–press freedom. He is a killer of journalists. Duterte is not just anti–press freedom. He is a killer of journalists. Recall his famous sentence: “Just because you’re a journalist, you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”

To dictators, a “son of a bitch” is anyone who might inconvenience them.

I think we who spend so much of our day media-bashing have an obligation to remember: Press freedom is a key part of overall freedom. It is key to democracy. It is what we on the right, among others, take advantage of every day.

When the president of the United States is sitting next to the killers of journalists, he should not laugh along with them when it comes to the press. If he cannot defend a free press — the right of people to question and report on their leaders — he should at least refrain from laughing.

Again, my Impromptus today is here. It’s a grab-bag, and see if you can grab something you like.

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