Ask the tough questions

( CNN) While freedom of the press is a right spelled out in the Constitution and upheld by the courts, it also represents every single American citizen’s responsibility to foster and protect.

That’s the view of Frank Sesno, Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University and a former CNN White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief, who is therefore of the opinion that Americans can play a significant role in creating a culture where everyone , not only reporters, is encouraged to ask the tough questions. He argues we must actively engage in a society that highlights injustices, challenges inconsistencies and holds leaders accountable.

The good news, according to Sesno, is that such a culture already exists in the United States. And as long as we continue to question — and to support those who dare to — we will preserve a strong republic.

I spoke with Sesno about how both citizens and journalists can better support such a culture.

This interview has been condensed and softly edited for clarity.

CNN: You’ve said that in order to create a space that encourages journalists to ask the hard questions, we need to foster a “free press culture.” How do you create and supports these a culture? And what are some of the defining elements of it?

Frank Sesno: Let me explain what I mean by a “free press culture.” It is a way of thinking and behaving that reflects who we are as a country — our openness, curiosity and sense of accountability. It is a culture that dedicates license to question, to challenge authority and to convey our ideas and opinions freely. It is cooked into our Dna, grounded in a constitution that puts freedom of speech, expression and religion in one place: the First Amendment.

Think of it this route: Every period you challenge the mayor to the reasons why the potholes aren’t filled, ask when the leak in the library roof is eventually going to get fixed, demand answers from the airline when it loses your suitcase, advocate for your candidate, criticize the city council, post an opinion about a proposed taxation increase or tweet about the added benefit of mindfulness meditation, you are participating in a free press culture.

You are carrying yourself and sharing information. You are demanding accountability and questioning. You are engaging in public discourse and debate. You are challenging folks who are in charge, glistening a spotlight on something that’s gone wrong or trumpeting your latest cause.

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