Editorial: Trump’s war with the media

Pushing back against President Donald Trump's continuous attacks on the free press

By The Easterner, Editorial board

On Aug. 15, newspapers around the country joined together and ran front-page editorials pushing back on President Donald Trump’s often tweeted assertion that the news media is the enemy of the American people. The idea for the editorials was the brainchild of the Boston Globe.

The Easterner does not print during the summer, so we did not run such an editorial. However, our editorial board stands alongside the boards that contributed to this effort.

For the sake of this editorial, we do not wish to engage in a partisan debate over policy. We are not offering an opinion on any of Trump’s actions as president of the United States. Rather, we are focusing on any president attacking the freedom of the media or suggesting that the press is the people’s enemy.

A function of the media is to hold the powerful accountable. This function has been acknowledged by countless American leaders throughout our nation’s history. President Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.”

The media’s role as a watchdog over the powerful is an important one, and it is vital that the press continues to play that role. The Washington Post represented this with the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1974. The Boston Globe is responsible for bringing child sex abuse in the Catholic Church to the public’s attention in 2002.

There are recent local examples as well. This year, newspapers across Washington State, including the Seattle Times, ran front-page editorials bringing attention to the fact that state lawmakers rushed to pass a bill that would exempt themselves from Washington’s Public Records Act. This led to public outcry, and Governor Jay Inslee opted to veto it.

President Trump asks that any news not favorable to him be disregarded as fake news. He confirmed his assertion that negative coverage is fake coverage in a May 9 tweet, which stated, “[…] 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?”

This is not the first time Trump has suggested taking away media credentials, or suggested that people are better off getting information directly from him.

Any leader making such a suggestion should be looked at with suspicion, because what such a leader is really asking for is to not be held accountable.

Trump is not the first President to be frustrated with negative coverage. For example, President Obama often complained about FOX News, even going so far as saying that it is not a news organization. This led to other news organizations coming to FOX’s defense. ABC’s Jake Tapper even confronted Obama’s White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on the issue, stating, “It’s escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations ‘not a news organization’ and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization.”

This led to a spirited back-and-forth exchange between the two.

Trump’s efforts to discredit the media have had some success. The Boston Globe reports that an Ipsos poll conducted Aug. 3-6, 2018, of about 1,003 adults, shows that 48 percent of Republicans agree that the media is the enemy of the American people. The same poll shows that 23 percent of Republicans believe that “President Trump should close down mainstream news outlets, like CNN, the Washington Post, and The New York Times.”

The media is not perfect. When we do make mistakes, we should correct them. We are running two corrections in this very issue of The Easterner. Different media outlets are also often correcting each other. Something said on FOX might be challenged on MSNBC later that same day, and vice versa. A free media means many voices engaging in a marketplace of ideas. This public exchange of information is the free media at work.

As the late Sen. John McCain said in 2017: “If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”

Therefore, the editorial board of The Easterner joins its counterparts at papers around the country in requesting that President Trump cease his war on the media.