The First Amendment – A Presidential Tale

     America was built on democracy. But what happens when the heart of democracy is put at risk? Two reporters risked their lives, their careers and their credibility to protect the sanctity of America and the heart of journalism–the First Amendment. On a journey that started with an unwanted burglary reporting assignment, these two men work their way through the political ranks to prove the internal Republican involvement in the break-in attempt to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Little did they know that the investigation would lead all the way up to the White House and would lead to President Nixon’s resignation. 

     The film “All the President’s Men” follows Robert “Bob” Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigation after a break-in at the DNC at the Watergate office building. Throughout their journey of political discovery, Woodward and Bernstein run into one consistent obstacle: fear of retaliation from the most powerful man in America, President Nixon. While they interviewed many persons of interest, cooperation was consistently minimal. President Nixon’s administration attempted to block the Washington Post as well as the New York Times from publishing articles related to the incident at Watergate.  The First Amendment rights, however, were upheld as the court dictated that the generalization of “national security” was not specific enough to justify overhauling the First Amendment’s clause regarding freedom of the press. While Woodward and Bernstein’s discoveries throughout the course of their investigation were of deep concern to our political system, they allowed for much a much-needed transformation of the United States presidential campaign policies. Moving forward, elections have had increased transparency and regulation of funds dedicated to political elections. This scandal also paved the way for rebranding career paths in journalism as a catalyst for conversation around political justice.

A Pulitzer Prize

     Stanley Forman, who won a Pulitzer Prize in the 1970s for his image “Boston Fire,” said, “You can always say, ‘I want to make a Pulitzer.’ But I don’t think you can go out and hunt and say, ‘I have to make a Pulitzer Prize winner today.’” Yet that’s exactly what these photographers wake up every day to do. Whether the Pulitzer is specifically on their minds or not, capturing that moment in history is how many have chosen to dedicate their lives. Whether that moment be priceless to American history, world history or the neighbor’s family album–capturing a moment of pure joy or raw sadness can bring the whole world to a single second of unified awe. That is what these Pulitzer winning photographers do–capture heart-wrenching, tear-jerking or joy-inducing moments that otherwise might have been missed or under appreciated. These award-winning photos are the strongest examples of once-in-a-lifetime moment that induce a necessary conversation with a sense of urgency around its topic matter. 

     Possibly in one of America’s most iconic photos, “Iwo Jima,” by Joe Rosenthal, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945. Here we see several soldiers who are physically exhausted and surrounded by debris rushing to hold up the American flag in the middle of chaos. During this time, World War II was taking a toll on families across the country. The depiction of these soldiers instilled a new sense of patriotism in Americans that boosted morale for those at home and overseas. Assisting in unification and patriotism, this image’s impact made a lasting impression and has been reenacted in several films. 

     By the 1950s, America was facing a question regarding police effectiveness and popularity of the profession was lacking. While O.W. Wilson, who had recently returned from World War II, made a huge impact on the social issues surrounding the professionalism of the police, positive press was still lacking for our officers in blue. “The Parade,” published by William Beall in 1958, did just that. In a black-and-white image, a local police officer is bent down at the waist to speak with a small, happy child, nervously fidgeting with his hands, who is eager for his ear. The parade onlookers in the background are all watching for the next float, except for an older man, presumably related to the child, who is watching the interaction with amusement. The interaction was sweet and heartwarming for many viewers and reinforced a positive impression of police as a whole.  

     In 1969, Eddie Adams was able to capture the “Saigon Execution.”  Vietnam was in full swing, and the brutality and violence of American allies was questionable. In a clear roadway there were soldiers who were walking a prisoner to confinement, when a general pulls out a gun. The soldiers who were holding this man all backed away and we see the man holding the gun up straight to the prisoner’s temple. This man knows his life is over, and it’s written all over his face. We see the last moment of sheer terror as the trigger was being pulled. This image sparked controversy throughout the country and initiated uncomfortable conversations around the war and who America was allying with. The photographer later regretted this photograph, saying that it only showed half the story.  

     On the home front, in the 1970s, “Boston Fire” was captured by Stanley Forman. This is a black-and-white image depicting a woman and her god-child falling from a steel rung balcony that they had been standing on with a local fire rescue team member that collapsed due to the damage done to the structural integrity by the fire. The mother fell fastest, with the young child falling just a split second after. You can almost hear the girl’s scream falling from the brick building. This image sparked a conversation within municipalities across the country regarding the prevention of similar accidents and resulted in more stringent fire safety codes surrounding fire escapes. 

     “Columbia Mudslide” won a Pulitzer in 1986 for Michel DuCille and Carol Guzy. In this image you see a young girl with bloodshot eyes with just her head above the mud.  She has sadness and exhaustion all over her face. There is a wooden barrier behind her. The girl depicted in the photograph did not make it. The photographer, Carol Guzy, said, “Someone once told me that empathy was not imagining how you would feel in a particular situation, but actually feeling what the other person is feeling.” The pure devastation after the volcano erupted was caught in this one photo, which showcased the desperation of the people affected by this natural disaster throughout the world and made its viewers really feel for those lost.  

     John White once said, “Everyone has a story.  And we sing their song.  If we don’t do it—if the journalist doesn’t do it—who’s going to do it?” In 1997, Annie Wells was able to tell two of those stories when she showcased “Water Rescue.”  A brave local emergency rescue member holds himself up using a slim branch while leaning in to reach a young teen girl. The bravery of this man is unmatchable. This girl was struggling to stay above rushing water so thick with debris it almost appears solid. Annie was able to snap the photo in the moment that built anticipation whether he was able to save her. 

     The winners of the Pulitzer, those listed above and otherwise, are truly heroes. They raise awareness for issues that others might not be able to relate to without actually seeing it themselves. Photojournalism is not for the fainthearted. These heart-wrenching scenarios are unavoidable, but being the person who can be there, focus on capturing the moment while their life is at risk is unbelievable. 

Spotlight’s on You: The Story of Pedophilia in the Catholic Church

     The church is a place of prayer and hope. Or it is supposed to be. The faith of four dedicated journalists is shaken when they come across the biggest story of the year: priests in Boston are molesting children. Once the journalists begin investigating, the numbers are astonishing. As it turns out, there are not just a small number of priests involved–there are nearly a hundred! Sacha Pfeiffer stops attending mass services with her Nana. Matt Carroll struggles when he realizes a  makeshift rehabilitation house formulated by the church for abusive priests is just down the street from his home. Robby realizes he has had his hands on this story all along. Watch as these reporters break the code of silence developed by the Catholic Church in Boston and reveal the real-life horror of priests abusing their most vulnerable followers. If they cannot publish the story, who is going to help? How else is this going to stop?

     Back in 2002, prior to the Boston Globe’s probing investigation into the abuse that was transpiring in the Catholic Church, there was very little talk around even the possibility of such acts occurring. The church was considered one of the most powerful entities in the lives of its followers. Making an accusation of abuse held the potential to uproot the lives of those affected. Within church walls, many of the churches had facilitated their own means of resolution to such scenarios by drawing up agreements outside of the court system. This resulted in the makeshift rehabilitation for abusive priests such as the one not far from Matt Carroll’s home. This resolution kept the abuse an inside secret, placing a gag order on the abused and their families, while allowing the priests to continue their lives without being subject to a court hearing. 

     The beginning of this huge societal shakedown began when Sacha Pfeiffer, Matt Carrol, Walter Robinson, Michael Rezendes, Marty Baron and Ben Bradlee Jr. took a strong stance against the ongoing abuse. Taking on this confrontation with the church posed a huge risk to the reporters and the newspaper. The Catholic Church in Boston at the time was known to have a strong political influence and was able to place pressure on entities such as the Boston Globe. Pursuing such a controversial story posed a risk to the credibility of the paper and the employment of the reporters. Providing solid documentation played a key piece in being able to continue pursuing the story. Exposing a huge societal flaw, however, provided the opportunity to ensure changes were implemented to prevent further abusers from being able to manipulate these victims. 

     Despite the risks, publishing the story of the Catholic Church’s abuse allowed the reporters a sense of civic duty, as they were able to educate the public on the inner workings of a major coverup and allow some closure for the victims. Down the line, the team received a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize. 

Remote Learning: How Is It Affecting Children?

     No one thought at this time last year that we would be remote learning due to a pandemic. In recent months, children have been at home more than at school. The “new normal” is affecting students as well as parents. How is it affecting children? 

     Adam Davis is a parent of two girls attending remote learning while Adam is working from home. He said, “It’s tiring for both the kids and the parents. They’re given work to get it done, not to learn.” The teachers in every district are doing everything they can to make remote learning as normal as possible. Normal is not what this pandemic has amounted to. For many, the changes made focus on the logistics of being at home, not on the needs of the children while they are at home.

     Aleshanee Brannigan, a mother of four, is seeing the outcome on her daughter, “My child tends to feel left out and not ‘heard.’ Literally not heard, because she is usually muted.”  While COVID-19 is very real, so is the mental health pandemic sweeping through our children. 

     Children in the Monmouth Memorial School had recess up to three times a day while attending in-person classes. Their recesses now consist of time at home with their family, while being isolated from their friends.

     Educators are doing their best to encourage engagement. It is not an easy task. Katie LeFreniere is a teacher in southern Maine. She took some time to reflect on how remote learning has affected her students’ work. “As an educator, my experiences with my fully remote students show that fully remote students are either flourishing or failing with no in between. I have students that I communicate with daily and who turn everything in on time. However, I also have students who haven’t completed any work and who don’t respond to my repeated attempts at communication.”

     Moving through the last few months has been hard, and it does not appear to be getting any easier. While the effects on each of our children is different, there needs to be a stronger community focus on supporting our teachers and our students. 

Financial Dangers During COVID

    Just after the one-year mark of COVID-19 hitting the United States, many are still suffering from the impacts of job loss due to forced closures throughout the country. Fraudsters have found new ways to take advantage of less-than-ideal situations. From PPP loan fraud to retail banking, scams are at an all time high. It is important to protect yourself, as scammers are evolving with the pandemic.

     Meredith Hanson is a 68-year-old retired teacher who was not expecting fraud when she received a call from a scammer. Meredith shared her experience, hoping others will not fall for the same scam. “It seemed like it was the bank. They knew some of my information, and the number on the phone was registered to the bank. I gave them the code that was sent to my phone…. After I gave it to them, I noticed the top of the text said, ‘We will never ask for this code.’ So, I hung up.” Meredith’s quick thinking saved her life savings. She called her bank, and they were able to stop any charges from coming through. “I am so thankful. I bank with my small-town credit union and they’re great.”

     Michele Gagonway, a local bank representative, has been seeing this more frequently since the pandemic. “I’m seeing it several times a week now. People are vulnerable–people are on lay off or too scared of the virus to work in public. It puts a financial strain. So, when a scammer calls and says they can help, they want to believe them.” So how can you protect yourself?

     In a virtual world, be cautious with information you post online. It has become common to see online “quizzes” on Facebook that ask the same common questions as security questions. “What’s your favorite color?” may seem harmless, but it could be one of the last lines of defense before a fraudster accesses an online account.

     Many banks now require two-factor authentication to log in to online banking. The codes sent to your phone will never be asked for verbally. If someone asks you to repeat this code, hang up and call your bank immediately.

     Most reputable financial institutions will not place outgoing calls to ask you for personal information. If you are ever unsure, hang up and call the phone number on the back of your card. This will ensure you are speaking with the bank and not an imposter.

     Ultimately, the best practice is to be cautious. If you are ever in doubt, call your bank. 

The Need Is Greater Than Ever

     The temperature is dropping in Maine, and many people are wondering how they are going to heat their homes this winter. The United Way of Androscoggin and Oxford Counties is on a mission to support the local community and increase the organized capacity of people who care for one another. Supporting 2-1-1, Maine’s free, confidential resource for information on assistance programs is one of the many ways The United Way has had an impact this year. With COVID-19, people who have never had to ask for help before, are asking now. The United Way of Androscoggin county supports people in 12 towns, and last year about 1 in 3 people received support. Many people do not realize just how big that impact is. From assisting with childcare and education, to Meals on Wheels and Touch-A-Truck, nearly everyone has a friend or family member receiving help. That number is on the rise this year, with kids out of school, grocery budgets are increasing while unemployment is at an all-time high. The campaign season is usually kicked off by the Day of Caring, which could not be done this year due to COVID restrictions. Julie Mailhot-Herrick worked as a Loaned Executive this year for the United Way of Androscoggin County, she says “I am grateful for the opportunity to work for the United Way through L.L. Bean this year. It’s been more challenging this year than in the past, we haven’t been able to get into businesses face to face to connect with potential donors.” Every year, The United Way receives two Loaned Executives, one from L.L. Bean and one from TD Bank to assist with fundraising for the local area. While they remain employees of L.L. Bean and TD Bank, they can step away from their usual responsibilities and work in the community. Joleen Bedard, Executive Director of the Androscoggin chapter spent some time reflecting on this year verses years past, “This year has been hard, and it’s had a negative effect on fundraising efforts. On the flip side, those that have been able to continue working and received the $1200.00 stimulus package have been thoughtful and generous, many have increased their gift this year.”

United Way Loaned Executives move the thermometer to 40%.

     To date, the United Way is at 40% of their $1.4 million goal. Please remember that the need is great, and the cost is low. 

Discing Provides Much Needed Relief

     With COVID-19 cases on the rise, everyone is out looking for socially distant, safe activities. The community-based Let’s Go! Program, which focuses on children building healthy habits, suggests one hour of activity per day.  This has been more difficult over the last few months. Parents are uneasy bringing their children to playgrounds, and many are home from school. Many children have increased screen time, due to learning and working from home schedules. For many, now is the time to focus on finding physical activities that families can do together. 

     Getting out of the house and onto the disc golf course has been a moment of relief for many families. Sarah Pettengill, owner of Pin High Disc Golf on Route 202 in Monmouth, said, business has been up in recent months. This is despite restrictions by Maine’s governor, Janet Mills, that have been updated regularly since April. Pin High was closed for about 20 days back in April, but has been able to remain open with minimal accommodations since.

Sarah Pettengill, Owner of Pin High Disc Golf throws a disc this summer.

     The outdoor sport is helping Mainers stay active. Casual games range from the solo player to a group of as many as 15 and tournaments with up to 50 players. 

     Mental health is a growing concern, more than ever with the winter months upon us. Sarah spoke to how the game has touched many customers positively. “I think it’s really great for people to get out there and get active. The average game is one to one-and-a-half hours of not having to think about everything else that’s going on in the world.”

     Jon Smith, an oil truck driver from Massachusetts, is a regular disc golf player. Thinking back on the last few months, Jon has been in his truck for six days a week getting oil to those who need it. He uses his weekly day off as a time to reflect and get out on the course. “It’s hard being in my truck for long days and then having to be quarantined inside when I’m not working. Getting outside with some friends on the course helps me get fresh air and safe, socially distanced human interaction.” 

     Disc golfing is one of the many outdoor activities that families have been enjoying recently. Whether you are an experienced player or are thinking about playing for the first time, take the time to get outside and play.