Today, more than 200 newspapers, radio and TV stations are offering editorials united against the idea that we are, as the President of the United States calls us, the enemy of the people. He says we are in the business of “fake news.”
To be sure, those of us who ply our trade behind microphones, in front of cameras, and over keyboards, have suffered the slings and arrows from politicians who didn’t like our criticism of them, or as a way to get a cheap laugh or even cheaper vote from a willing base. Go back to 1970 when former Vice-President Spiro Agnew called the media the “nattering nabobs of negativity.” I was in a convention hall in 1995 when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich pointed at the assembled media and blamed US for the political divide that actually got him his job just months earlier. Again, the media’s been a convenient whipping boy for vote-seekers going back to the time of the founding of the republic.
But this…what’s happening today…is different. When the President of the United States, a man who’s taken an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States against its enemies, targets one of those constitutionally protected entities—we should all be concerned.
When asked by CBS’s Lesley Stahl about his attacks on the media, President Trump said “I do it to discredit you all, and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.” Take a minute and really let that sink in. He calls the media the “enemy of the people” as a way to deflect criticism.
What the president’s statements have done, though, is also create a dangerous environment for reporters, who face verbal attacks and even threats of violence from his supporters. Think I’m over-blowing this? A quick internet search will turn up a now-infamous picture taken by a Reuters photographer of a man at a gathering of Trump supporters two days before the November 2016 election, wearing a t-shirt that said “rope, tree, journalist…some assembly required.” That was BEFORE Trump was president.
A free press is one of the pillars of our democracy. It’s one of those things that are uniquely American. Consider what the founding fathers did when they built into this nation’s defining liberties—a freedom of the press.
While the so-called “national media” gets most of the attention, I want you to think about those reporters closer to home--those men and women who report on local government, education, business, and the countless other things that define who we are and where we live. Aside from having jobs that bring sometimes uninvited personal attention—they are, we are, you. We live in your neighborhoods, our kids are in school with your kids, and we shop in your stores. We are you.
And, to be sure, we aren’t perfect. We make mistakes. We, increasingly, seem to want to make the story about us—and I’m sure this little missive is a perfect example. In a 24-7-365 news cycle we, sometimes, put being first ahead of being right. We are also caught up in a time when chasing “likes” and “clicks” and “re-tweets” have become as important as chasing facts. So, just maybe, we are now being made to atone for giving then-candidate Trump a free ride for most of 2016 chasing ratings. We still have account for that.
But, when it comes to journalists, whether here at home or working across the nation…all we want to do is get you the facts you need to make informed decisions about your life and your community. Constant attacks from all quarters are harmful and hurtful to us, certainly, but as much so to you, the people we’re trying to serve.