Donald Trump’s attacks on the media and unsubstantiated claims have inspired one group of journalists – editorial cartoonists. The Sacramento Bee’s Jack Ohman says the Trump administration’s actions remind him of Richard Nixon’s presidency. (March 14)
More than 350 newspapers and other media outlets joined The Boston Globe in publishing editorials Thursday promoting freedom of the press and refuting President Donald Trump’s labeling of the news media as the “enemy of the people.”
The Globe, in an effort started last week, gained support from other newspapers – small and large, across the U.S. – in an attempt to thwart Trump’s ongoing “assault on the free press,” the Globe wrote in its editorial Thursday.
Trump began denouncing mainstream media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and NBC as “fake news media” and “the enemy of the American people,” soon after his inauguration in 2017.
Such rhetoric can have “dangerous consequences” and is typical of authoritarian regimes, the Globe’s editorial posits.
“Replacing a free media with a state-run media has always been a first order of business for any corrupt regime taking over a country,” the Globe wrote. “Today in the United States we have a president who has created a mantra that members of the media who do not blatantly support the policies of the current U.S. administration are the ‘enemy of the people.'”
Newspapers from Bangor, Maine, to San Diego were among those with editorials. Most conveyed concerns about Trump’s willingness to attack any less-than-flattering news reports.
“It’s not a coincidence that this president — whose financial affairs are murky and whose suspicious pattern of behavior triggered his own Justice Department to appoint an independent counsel to investigate him — has tried so hard to intimidate journalists who provide independent scrutiny,” the Globe said.
President Trump responded to the concerted effort via Twitter, saying the Globe is “in COLLUSION with other papers on free press” and tweeting, ‘THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA IS THE OPPOSITION PARTY. It is very bad for our Great Country….BUT WE ARE WINNING!”
The editorials say public officials must accept a free press for the role it plays as a watchdog in helping democracy function.
The New York Times, in its editorial, noted the Supreme Court in 1964 ruled that “Public discussion is a political duty” and must be “uninhibited, robust and wide-open,” and “may well include vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
The Delaware County Daily Times in Swarthmore, Penn., in one of those editorials the Times tweeted, refuted Trump’s “fake news” labeling and declared “we are not the enemy of the people.”
“Opinions are not ‘fake news.’ The editorials and opeds we write and publish are just that – opinion,” the Daily Times’ editorial said. “We sometimes endorse candidates based on the information we have and who we think will best serve our community. You may agree with us, or you may not. That’s OK. Our job is to provide you with the facts so you can form your own opinion and make your own informed decisions.”
Several editorials said local officials were increasing verbal attacks on reporters, leading to an uneasiness about potential violence against journalists. “Despite criticism and words of caution, Trump’s assault on the press hasn’t eased. If anything, it is ramping up, creating an atmosphere of hate, anger and potential violence against reporters,” wrote the Swift County Monitor News of Benson, Minn.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, introduced a resolution condemning attacks on the free press and confirming “that the press is not the enemy of the people.”
Some newspapers sat out the initiative, with the San Francisco Chronicle ‘s editorial editor John Diaz writing “it plays into Trump’s narrative that the media are aligned against him.”
He also said it was worth noting editorial pages are run separately from the news-gathering segment of the newspaper. “That operation is kept separate from the news side, where editors and reporters make their judgments without regard to the newspaper’s editorial positions,” Diaz wrote. “This includes the endorsements we make in elections.”
Overall, the concerted effort by hundreds of newspapers – and many TV and radio stations – reflects the pressure that Trump has ratcheted up on the media. During the day, Twitter hashtag #FreePress propagated messages about the need for independent journalism and for readers’ support in the form of subscriptions.
“This effort is proof that journalists and editorial writers across the country feel under threat right now,” said Brian Stelter, CNN’s senior media correspondent and host of the network’s “Reliable Sources” program, in a segment covering the newspapers’ offensive. “They feel a need to speak out and defend the very profession of journalism, the very existence of the news media.”
Even outlets that support Trump asked for a tempering of the attacks. The Topeka (Kan.) Capital Journal, which endorsed Trump in 2016, said that not covering the president “aggressively would be a dereliction of duty. We know that’s not always a popular stance, but it doesn’t make the press the enemy of anyone.”
Instead, readers – whether they are fans of Trump or not – should realize “we’re not the enemy of the people,” the newspaper’s editorial advisory board wrote. “We are the people.”
Manny Garcia, the standards editor for the USA TODAY Network, said in an editorial in Thursday’s print edition and on USATODAY.com, “The reporters aren’t the enemy of the people. They pursue real stories intended to right wrongs and help the least among us. Journalism is mission work, an honest cause beyond our eyes. Like nursing, teaching and police work, it’s built on a foundation of accuracy, trust, wisdom and character.”
Here’s what some of the the other 100-plus Gannett-owned local media organizations in the USA TODAY Network had to say:
•The Des Moines Register: “The true enemies of the people — and democracy — are those who try to suffocate truth by vilifying and demonizing the messenger.”
•The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Often those in power react angrily when held accountable. … But politicians come and go, political parties move in and out of power. A free and independent press holds them all accountable, giving citizens the knowledge they need to stay in charge, just as our nation’s founders intended.”
•The Arizona Republic: “[Some reporters have] abandoned objectivity for advocacy, and are clearly out to get this president. That’s not their job. On the flip side, other journalists and news organizations have turned into sycophants and mouthpieces for the administration. … That’s not journalism. … The job of deciphering what is real and what is not is damned hard work. We don’t need to complicate that with wrecking balls and pom-poms.”
•Detroit Free Press: “I doubt [Trump] wakes up in the middle of the night tortured by the thought that he has tweeted something that might not be scrupulously true,” wrote Brian Dickerson, the Free Press’ editorial page editor. “But I have known literally thousands of journalists in my 40-year career, and I can assure you that the least accomplished of them are haunted by that very anxiety. So when I hear the president describe journalists as people who casually conspire to disseminate ‘fake news,’ I have to ask: Who the hell is he talking about?”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.
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