In a press conference on February 16—which has since gone viral—President Trump attacked the media 30 separate times. Trump called it a “combative, grievance-filled press conference” and said that reporters will “not tell you the truth.’
The 45th president of the United States has called journalists the “disgusting and corrupt media.” Just last week, he claimed the media was out of control, that his administration was going to bypass the media altogether and “go straight to the people.”
Trump also repeatedly used his favorite platform, Twitter, for attacks against the media:
On Thursday, White House strategist Steve Bannon showed his true colors at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), calling the media “the opposition party.”
And today, there was an unprecedented action: the White House blocked CNN, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico and BuzzFeed from a press briefing. In protest for their fellow news sources, The Associated Press and TIME Magazine have both boycotted the briefing held in Sean Spicer’s office. The White House did not ban conservative news outlets like Breitbart news (the far right website formerly led by Bannon).
Dean Baquet, New York Times executive editor, promptly wrote, “Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties. We strongly protest the exclusion of The New York Times and the other news organizations. Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.”
Continuously throughout his election and first few weeks in office, President Trump has disparaged the media, repeating the rhetoric of “fake news” to incentivize fear and distrust in the public platforms.
Many Christians and conservatives have begun treating the media like “Satan’s newspaper”, believing the lie that the press (generally speaking) is not only liberal but dishonest, corrupt and dangerous. However, such statements undercut the indispensable job of journalists and the freedom of the press.
Thomas Jefferson once famously said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Why would he insinuate that the press—which can freely critique government action—is more important than the institution of government itself? Perhaps because newspapers played an essential role in the establishment of this country in the first place.
During the Revolutionary War, newspapers informed colonists about the exploitation of Britain’s Stamp Tax of 1765. Because the Stamp Tax taxed paper, many printers felt the burden the most.
Colonial newspapers up and down the coast began printing works by Patriots, most famously “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine. One newspaper in particular, the Maryland Gazette, published informed Patriot opinions and became a forum for debate and discussion.
Even before the Revolutionary War was under way, the founding parents of the United States underscored the exigency of the freedom of the press. In 1774, the Continental Congress wrote the following:
“The last right we shall mention regards the freedom of the press. The importance of this consists, besides the advancement of truth, science, morality, and arts in general, in its diffusion of liberal sentiments on the administration of Government, its ready communication of thoughts between subjects, and its consequential promotion of union among them, whereby oppressive officers are shamed or intimidated into more honorable and just modes of conducting affairs.”
Today, the freedom of the press is protected by the First Amendment — it serves as a mouthpiece for the governed and a source of accountability for the governors. A free and public media has two primary responsibilities: 1) be a voice for the voiceless, and 2) keep the powerful accountable. In order to do this, it must function as a watchtower lookout, ready and able to investigate significant matters. Additionally, it serves as an outlet for the free exchange of ideas, a marketplace for opinions and debate, allowing people access to wide pools of knowledge and insights.
To call major news sources a ubiquitous form of “fake news” is to disparage the right and responsibility to seek the truth and share it with the public.
Oftentimes, major news sources are the only ones with the ability, resources and time to investigate the stories which need to be told. Who would have turned the spotlight on the systemic abuse of young boys in the Catholic Church if not The Boston Globe? Who would have published the Watergate story if not The Washington Post?
The response to any concerns with the media should not be to negate the significance of the press, but to encourage and strengthen writers and editors to write and edit ethically. True journalism is truth-seeking, honest and diligent. It is committed to sifting through the layered complexities of facts and opinions.
True journalism is as fundamental as the three branches of government, as our founding fathers and mothers knew and believed. The press allows people to assess what is taking place and it helps them understand policy since they are not there in person to ask questions of the president and his advisors at press corps briefings. So we need to defend the rights of our journalists to be there, to attend the briefings and to ask the hard questions.
Without the press, we have an unchecked government and an uninformed people.
It’s about time that we put an end to the “fake news” rhetoric and begin the fight of protecting the freedom of the press.
After all, Joseph Pulitzer put it best, saying: “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together.”