For all of his inconsistency on many other subjects, President Donald Trump has been unswerving in his relentless berating of this nation’s free press.
The attacks come regularly via Twitter and when he encourages those attending political rallies to demonize reporters covering the events.
It’s not pleasant to be on the receiving end of such antics, but this isn’t about us. This is about separating fact from fiction. It’s about the truth and one man’s efforts to undermine those who deliver facts he clearly dislikes.
If the president’s concerns about the press served primarily to invite the public to be critical consumers of news, The Dispatch and most other news organizations would welcome it. Being open to legitimate criticism and being committed to publishing verifiable facts are keys to preserving trust in a free and fair press. We aren’t perfect, and when we make errors, we correct them. We have not seen that policy in action at the White House.
We also are not stenographers or cheerleaders. Newspapers that would print only what politicians want them to report would abdicate their obligation to be impartial observers and to serve as a check on behavior that might otherwise lead to unfettered corruption.
Our decision to speak out is not about politics but about condemning unprofessional, uncivil and dangerous behavior. The president’s actions are a calculated effort to obfuscate the truth and undermine the ability of Americans to trust the most reliable sources of information on which to judge the conduct of government officials.
That was Trump’s plan even before he became president. He admitted as much to veteran broadcast journalist Lesley Stahl in the midst of his campaign in July 2016. Stahl said she asked Trump why he railed against the press, and he explained, "I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you."
It might work with some people, but a new Quinnipiac Poll this week shows that 65 percent of American voters see the news media as an important part of democracy; 26 percent believe the president’s ridiculous claim that the media is the "enemy of the people."
This president is not the first to have an adversarial relationship with reporters. Most presidents do, and they expect it — especially when the press is doing its job of questioning policy decisions and seeking to explain what’s behind government action or inaction.
Living in a free country gives us all the right to pick and choose among many freedoms — where to live, where to work, where to worship, with whom to associate and where to access the information needed to make many of those choices.
If not for questioning by professional journalists, would government officials and agencies be as responsive to the public’s concerns? We safeguard your right to know — especially in an election season.
Divisiveness, distrust and derision are not qualities a president should seek to inspire in the American people — especially when his tirades serve only to denigrate an entire profession that our Founding Fathers deemed important enough to protect in the First Amendment.
Please don’t allow the president’s bad behavior to destroy your ability to judge our performance — or his.
— The Columbus Dispatch