The Founders of this nation, who traded blood for independence, understood the value in a free press to ensure leaders remain true to their constitutional duties, and to the people they serve.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against infringement upon the freedom of the press, entrusting in journalists the duty to function as a watchdog over our Republic.
Checks and balances are essential in every operation, be it a private corporation, a non-profit, or a government.
Politicians have a vested interest — their careers — in driving the narrative, controlling the message. It’s not unusual for presidents to be at odds with reporters. The difference between President Donald Trump and his predecessors is that 45 seeks not just to control the message, but to serve as puppet master over those who deliver it.
Worrisome of late is the sharpened tone he has picked up and wielded as a sword to divide the people from the press.
Trump uses Twitter to plant seeds of public distrust of new organizations by denigrating the media. Earlier this year, he tweeted, “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @CNN, @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people. SICK!”
He deleted the tweet but a short time later offered this revised comment, “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
If you repeat the same lie over and over and over again — it takes on an aura of fact. In reality, the truth is diminished with each lie, as if it were a balloon with a slow, imperceptible leak.
President Trump’s fondness for disparaging the media extends to his political rallies, where he works supporters into a frenzy with his verbal assaults on reporters. At an April rally in Michigan, he claimed, "They don't have sources. The sources don't exist in many cases. The sources in many cases don't exist.”
Such words seek to devalue our work in the hope that readers will lose faith in our reports. But media ethics demand that we vet sources and fact-check the information they provide us. Furthermore, we are purposeful in our reporting, striving to recognize sensitive subjects and taking care to present them in a fashion sans sensationalism.
The president’s divisive rhetoric has been echoing at campaign-style events throughout the country, including just last month in Missouri, where he cautioned attendees, “And just remember, what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.” He also propped up supporters by telling them "Just stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.”
On his earlier visit to the Wolverine State, President Trump cajoied his audience by saying of reporters "They hate your guts."
Such comments are dangerous, so says the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. The Jordanian diplomat on Monday told The Guardian that President Trump’s criticism of journalists could lead to attacks on them.
“We began to see a campaign against the media … that could have potentially, and still can, set in motion a chain of events which could quite easily lead to harm being inflicted on journalists just going about their work and potentially some self-censorship,” Zeid said. “And in that context, it’s getting very close to incitement to violence.”
Trump, in seeking to vilify those who would hold him accountable, could very well be guilty of “fighting words,” speech unprotected by the First Amendment. As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, they are words that "by their very utterance, inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.”
While violence against reporters could result in loss of life and livelihood, self-censorship by a press under siege is equally damning to democracy. Reporters cannot function half-heartedly or by constantly looking over their shoulders. And the mission to inform is lost if the editing process includes omitting anything and everything that might not sit well with consumers of news.
Trump uses the office of the presidency as his bully pulpit from which he casts aspersions on the media. To what end?
We will never “Make America Great Again,” as the president espouses, if such polarizing language continues.
The fallout from Trump’s media blitzkrieg is being felt in newsrooms across America — including this one. The negative comments have reached our ears. Some dismiss us out of hand, as if we were more annoyance than a partner in the community.
We remain committed, though, to delivering the news of the day — without sanitation — and information that but for our efforts would elude public scrutiny.
Our leaders — be they presidents of the nation or of the city council — do not get to choose to whom they are accountable. They are accountable to the citizenry.
We intend to hold them to it. To do anything less is dereliction of our duty.
This is a guest editorial from our sister newspaper the News and Tribune in Jefferesonville, Indiana.