Trump's Presidency Demands A Vigilant Press

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Trump's Presidency Demands A Vigilant Press

by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

This past week’s attack on the news media wasn’t the first by a U.S. president, but it was what many consider to be the most disturbing.

It started last Thursday during an impromptu 75-minute news conference called by Trump at which he blasted the press, ridiculing its organizations, and treating its reporters with obvious disdain. Seven times during the press conference he claimed that some of the nation’s most respected news organizations were nothing but “fake news.”

“Much of the media in Washington, D.C. — along with New York, Los Angeles, in particular — speaks not for the people but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system,” Trump said. “The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people.”

While his news conference was a flat out attack on the credibility of the press, it was his Twitter post Friday afternoon that caused some to say he had gone too far (not the first time Trump has heard that said about him.)
 “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s careless use of such an incendiary accusation was swiftly criticized with the critics not limited to Democrats or the “liberal” media.

“When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press,” Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd Sunday morning. “And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.”

Dictators from communists Stalin and Lenin, to Germany’s Adolph Hitler, to Third World despots such as the late Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, all attacked the press as an “enemy of the people.” They used the claim to suppress, delegitimize and isolate the press from the public.

While there are certainly times when he doesn’t like the press, McCain went on to say,  “We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital. If you want to preserve - I’m very serious now - if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press.”

Even high-ranking members of Trump’s cabinet disagree with him on the claim about the press being the enemy of the people. While traveling in the Middle East, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Sunday the press was not the enemy.

 “Look, we’re big boys. We criticize presidents,” Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said on the Sunday morning “Fox & Friends” program. Fox is considered by some to be a mouthpiece for the Republican Party and a big Trump supporter. “They want to criticize us back, that’s fine. But when he said that the fake news media is not my enemy, it’s the enemy of the American people, I believe that crosses an important line.”

 “Presidents have always had - and politicians have always had - problems with the press. They want good press. The press doesn’t always give it to them,” Wallace said.

You can argue that the press is biased, you can complain that isn’t fair, but to call it the “enemy of the people” is endangering not just the public’s faith in the press, but its very role in holding those in power accountable.

“Donald Trump is demonstrating an authoritarian attitude and inclination that shows no understanding of the role of the free press,” Carl Bernstein, who along with Bob Woodward, uncovered the Nixon Administration’s burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. in June 1972. That same year, Nixon told his National Security Advisor Henry A. Kissinger that, “The press is the enemy.” In August 1974 Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment for the crimes of his administration.

In his constant attacks on the press, Bernstein said that Trump is trying “to divide the country, and make the conduct of the press the issue, instead of the conduct of the president.”

Democracy demands a vigilant and aggressive press
Trump’s ingratiating behavior toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s attempt to affect our presidential election, Trump’s business ties with Russia, his campaign’s contact with Russian officials, his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office, and his dismissing Russia’s brutal actions as no worse than some of what the U.S. does are all reasons to look more closely at what is behind this series of troubling events and comments.

The Toronto Star has collected a list of 80 lies, or false statements, by Trump in just the first month of his presidency.

Trump said he would have won the popular vote if millions of “illegals” hadn’t voted – never happened. His crowd was the largest to witness an inauguration  - it wasn’t. He had the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan – Barack Obama, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton won by bigger margins. There was a smooth rollout of his travel ban – it was a disastrous rollout that was stopped by the courts. He claims that terror attacks aren’t being reported – they are.

No one should assume Trump’s ability to repeat a lie over and over again, or his ability to lie when the truth is so easily provable, as stupidity on his part.

 “We ought to assume that it’s darkly brilliant — if not in intention than certainly in effect,” Bret Stephens, foreign affairs columnist for the Wall Street Journal, says. “The president is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact, but by denying the claim that facts are supposed to have on an argument.

“He’s saying that, as far as he is concerned, facts, as most people understand the term, don’t matter: That they are indistinguishable from, and interchangeable with, opinion; and that statements of fact needn’t have any purchase against a man who is either sufficiently powerful to ignore them or sufficiently shameless to deny them — or, in his case, both.”

In Trump’s case, “Truth is defined by what you can get away with,” Stevens writes. And if that is the kind of president we have, then the vigorous, trusted press is needed now more than ever.

 “When the media lies to people, I will, never, ever let them get away with it,” Trump told his supporters at his Saturday political rally. “They have their own agenda and their agenda is not your agenda.”

Well, Mr. President, holding those in power accountable for the words they say has been our responsibility with politicians since the founding of this country and you have the press working overtime.

 

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