Last month the U.S. Senate unanimously adopted a resolution that proclaimed: “The press is not the enemy of the state,” despite our current president’s continuous attempts to instill fear of the press.
It is not hard to understand why a tyrant would want to silence the free press. In any dictatorship, the capacity of an institution to criticize its leaders and inform the public presents an intrinsic harm to the reign of that leader, which is why they take measures to discredit the only branch capable of criticizing them.
“The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People … They are very dangerous & sick!” President Donald Trump said in a Twitter post on Aug. 5.
If we are indeed at a point in our country’s political discourse that the Senate is compelled to adopt an official stance on the necessity of a free press to the American people, then we, as individuals and as a nation, have lost sight of one of the most fundamentally important features of our government.
To find our way back, we need to begin to seriously consider the long term effects of the current administration’s attack on genuine journalism. It is time to stop treating Trump’s assault on the First Amendment in the same manner as a spoiled toddler throwing a tantrum because he was disciplined for misbehaving.
Shrugging off and pacifying the child will do nothing to avoid further tantrums, and when that tantrum has significant impacts on the American people and the health of our democracy, it simply cannot be tolerated.
While there is plenty to criticize our current president over, his regular expressions of contempt for journalism are among the most dangerous of his shortcomings. His proclamations degrade and delegitimize the only system in place that shines a light on his, or anyone else’s, misconduct.
The scary part about Trump’s rhetoric is the volume of people who are listening – and believing – what the President of the United States has to say.
His position gives him credibility, and this anti-press rhetoric poses a tangible threat to the welfare of our country, and makes this country – and the world – a dangerous place for journalists.
On Aug. 20, Kenneth Vogul, a New York Times journalist who has spent his career covering conflicts of interest and lobbying, received a harrowing voicemail.
“You’re the problem. You are the enemy of the people. And although the pen might be mightier than the sword, the pen is not mightier than the AK-47,” the unidentified man said.
This was not prompted by a lapse of journalistic ethics, nor was it born of concern for the American people. Vogul received the voicemail for his accurate coverage of Donald Trump.
Considering the amount of information – fact and fiction – that is readily consumed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, it’s already easy to be confused about what information can be trusted.
Legitimate news outlets are on front lines and staffed by professionals, whose charge is to report accurate newsworthy information, and to act as the watchdogs of the powers that be.
Last month, in an effort orchestrated by The Boston Globe, more than 300 news outlets ran editorials promoting the freedom of the press and condemning the anti-press rhetoric of President Trump.
But the press cannot fight the battle alone. The health of our democracy depends on a free press, which every one of us must support.