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Meryl Streep’s letter to defend the free press

Although Meryl Streep, 69, was in the news this year for a variety of reasons – including her response to the allegations of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein – as an actress, she did what she always does and threw her weight behind a story she believed in.

For her role as publisher Katharine Graham in Steven Spielberg’s The Post – the true story of The Washington Post’s attempts to publish the Pentagon Papers and expose a massive government cover-up in 1971 – Streep earned a record 21st Oscar nomination. In playing the part, Streep endorsed a timely message – namely that a rigorous, free press is an essential part of a healthy democracy, which we should not only support, but celebrate and defend.

Here, she writes an exclusive letter for PORTER about why we need good reporters now more than ever.

We need to protect, defend and thank the current crop of journalists around the world, because they, their scruples and their principles are the front-line defense of free and informed people.

Speaking up, with your name and face on your words, is a daunting prospect. A famous study found that, for a quarter of the American population, fear of public speaking beat their fear of drowning, needles, snakes, heights or clowns. Scarier than clowns!? The study was conducted before the advent of the internet; now, anonymity allows the timid to hurl falsehood and invective as if they were swinging nunchucks, hitting and hurting without fear of attribution (or retribution)… Death threats are the new normal. Armed escorts for the press could be the next new thing.

Journalists today, investigative journalists, and especially female journalists, are vulnerable, doxxable and come under a special scrutiny online. They must vouch for their stories, put their names on them, and as a result they attract the cowardly, the bullies, the brotherhood of bots and their easily aroused armies of haters.

What is it to be brave, and why, in peacetime, do we need bravery? We need the brave ones out front, picking through the field ahead of us for land mines so we don’t step on one, or elect one… For all of us who rely on the news, but do not gather it, who are too busy to research it ourselves and stake our lives on its veracity, we need these relentless, annoying questioners, these bulls**t detectors, these modern-day Cassandras to report to us what they see, what they hear, and which way leads over the cliff, so we can swerve to avoid it…

What’s the difference between bravery, and bravado? Bravery is terrifying and actual, bravado is a parade. We see enough examples of Braggadocio and Bravado strutting around on the public stage… But true bravery is the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, blown up in her car for reporting on the Panama Papers. Bravery is Patricia Mayorga, the Mexican journalist determined to expose corruption in her country, and the nexus between officials and drug cartels. Bravery is Arwa Damon reporting from inside the Yazidi encampment as they are being attacked by Isis. Bravery is every one of the journalists who has stood up recently and attracted a bullseye on her back, just because she reported on and loves the truth. She serves the truth, for one reason: because without it, even the idea of a free society collapses.

I applaud and revere our female journalists – I love them, and their equally undaunted brothers. We need them now more than ever…

MERYL STREEP

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