America’s free press is not your ‘enemy’

Published 6:29 am Thursday, August 16, 2018


The Advocate-Messenger

A free press is essential to a free country. One cannot exist without the other.

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That is why newspapers across the country are standing together today, Aug. 16, to fight back against the many attacks undermining our democracy and creating a dangerous climate for all our freedoms.

The vitriolic message starts at the very top of our nation and, regardless of who it is directed at or the vast differences between media entities, it has a trickle-down effect that hurts journalists fighting for freedom of press.

Do you know what Hugo Chavez, Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and Donald Trump have in common? They have all characterized independent media sources as “enemies” of their countries, in attempts to undermine free speech and consolidate the power of the press among their own supporters.

A big difference between those three former dictators and Trump is that our elected leader hasn’t yet succeeded in censoring the media in this country. That is thanks in part to the American tradition and guaranteed right, in place since even before 1776, of freedom of speech.

But that foundational principle is not invulnerable and some continue an all-out attack on it.

It is more important now than it has been in a long time for good people who love the freedoms the U.S. allows to stand up in support of those freedoms as they come under attack.

This isn’t a partisan issue. Now is time for Republicans, Democrats and independents to stand shoulder to shoulder and say “enough is enough.”

The president first labeled U.S. news outlets as “the enemy of the people” a month after he took office. And he has continued his campaign to destroy any media outlets that fail to praise him or question his policies ever since.

These broad-brush attacks on the media harm U.S. businesses that employ tens of thousands of people and serve as an essential pillar of democracy by keeping the public informed. Among those businesses are thousands of weekly and daily community newspapers, including this one. Most community newspapers don’t focus on what is going on in Washington, D.C. Their efforts are put 100 percent into covering local government, high-school sports and showcasing the amazing things going on in their communities.

These newspapers’ employees are dedicated members of the communities they serve. Their kids may know your kids. You might attend church with them. They volunteer with local organizations. They support our local businesses.

They are definitely not “enemies.”

The term “enemy of the people” or “enemy of the state” is one used frequently in history by authoritarians to target political opponents and justify jailing, exiling or killing them.

It’s rightly not been a term used much in the U.S., where the potent combination of representative democracy, our strong Constitution and the freedom of speech have prevented aspiring authoritarians from gathering enough power to take over.

President Trump has wrongly labeled our American journalists, editors and photographers as “the enemy of the people.” He never apologizes for it — in fact, he usually doubles down.

“The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it’s TRUE,” Trump tweeted just this month. “I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People.”

Individuals or groups that attack wholesale our independent newspapers, TV networks and radio stations are making a blatant but insidious attempt to delegitimize news sources outside of their control.

If they could, these radicals would shutter any news organizations not parroting their approved narratives. Your community’s newspaper, your local radio station, your own freedom of speech would all be collateral damage from such a move.

Fortunately, that can’t be accomplished right now. But it could happen in the future if those who oppose a truly free press can hammer away long enough and hard enough at the First Amendment without continual opposition and rejection. If enough people buy into the “enemy of the people” claim, there won’t be enough outcry to matter when things are taken to the extreme.

Our proud tradition of free speech would end then, in the words of T.S. Eliot, “Not with a bang, but a whimper.”