Editorial

Demonizing the Free Press Puts President on Wrong Side of History

Free press: Fist holding a pencil as a symbol of freedom.

Andrea Danti/Shutterstock

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Criticism is nothing new to people in the news business.

If you have spent more than a day gathering it, writing it, reporting it, printing it or posting it, you have experienced it. Readers need the news, but they don’t always like what they read. When they don’t like it, they let you know.

Granted, people get mad at reporters and editors for good reason. Try explaining that misspelling of the Little Leaguer’s name to an irate parent. There is no excuse for that. In the newsroom, stick to the facts and the correct spellings. Make sure you get the story right, talk to all sides, and write clearly and concisely. Prose is nice, but it doesn’t mean squat if you can’t get the facts right.

Black and white, right? Everyone can agree on that, no?

No. Sadly no. Not in an environment when the president calls all of it “fake” and calls the practitioners of the First Amendment “the enemy of the people.” The media, the newspaper reporter, the TV correspondent, the online journalist, anyone adhering to the values and ethics of traditional journalism is now the other, the distrusted, the unpatriotic, the purveyor of — as the president of the United States recently told an audience assembled in eastern Pennsylvania — the “fake, fake, disgusting news.”  

The president peddles this nonsense, of course, because his particular brand of rhetoric divides us, and dividing us has proven to be a winner for him, at least for now.

This is nothing new. We have seen this familiar demonizing of the press before, many times — the Deep South during the civil rights movement, the Balkans in the wake of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Nazi Germany. We could go on.

You don’t need an advanced degree in history to know the dreadful wreckage left in the wake of these episodes. The current White House leadership would be wise to ask which side of history the above landed on and which one they would rather be on. Do they go the way of the freedom-loving nations of the world or the way of present-day Syria or the Russian Federation?

So why do we, the editors of a publication focused on kids and the people who work with them,  raise such a fuss about all this now? One reason is that our friends at the Boston Globe suggested a coordinated response to the president’s dangerous rhetoric today. More than 200 papers, as well as our trade group the American Society of News Editors, are joining in.

Mostly, though, we say this because it is the right thing to do, in the defense of journalism and a free, democratic society.

A free press has always been the bedrock of American democracy, but this nation, any nation, is only as strong as its institutions. We will do what we have to do to guard against the erosion of those institutions.

And that means we will simply keep doing our job, be it in the face of legitimate criticism from a parent or hateful invective from the nation’s leader.  

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