A free press defends itself

The most frightening part of the White House’s assertion that the free press is the enemy of the American people is that the free press has had to work so hard in subsequent days to point out why it’s not.

Many Americans should be smarter than they are on this point.

In a lengthy editorial today, the Star Tribune takes a stab at it anyway.

Whether it’s in Washington, overseas or here at home, journalists work hard at getting beyond the official version to the deeper truths officials don’t always want you to see.

A global network of reporters collaborated to produce the Panama Papers, groundbreaking stories on how the rich here and abroad use secret offshore tax havens. A New York Times photo essay bore witness to dozens of killings on the streets of Manila as part of a brutal government crackdown on drugs.

Just recently Star Tribune reporters have uncovered failing child protection agencies, the inhumane misuse of solitary confinement in prisons, and the flagrant favors dispensed at U.S. Bank Stadium, leading to resignations of two top officials. The Editorial Board does its part with independently researched editorials that provoke debate and challenge leaders to do better, as well as by publishing commentaries and letters to the editor that reflect a broad range of thought.

Here’s a secret: Good journalists do have one genuine bias — toward the story that sheds light, pulls back a curtain and gives people the tools to understand what’s being done to and ostensibly for them.

The powerful have never liked being watched, and they will do whatever they can to avoid scrutiny. The founders of this country knew that. Americans now can ill afford to forget it.

In an op-ed, Dallas Morning News editor Mike Wilson suggested you have a right to know reality.

Enemies of the people cover the justice system. They write about the teachers who educate your children and the doctors who treat your illnesses. Enemies of the people warn you about greedy garage door companies and lousy customer service departments. An enemy of the people reports on the property tax rate you pay.

Enemies of the people spend long hours monitoring public meetings so they can tell you what the government is doing with your money and in your name. Our coverage of the Texas Legislature is brought to you by enemies of the people. Two enemies of the people cover Dallas City Hall.

We have enemies of the American people who cover the nation’s most powerful and important leader, bearing witness to everything he says. Enemies of the people understand the importance of choosing the right words because they know the damage the wrong words can do.

The nation’s founders recognized that a free press would act as a companion to the checks-and-balance system of our government. Perhaps they knew that the day would come when when branches of government would refuse to perform the role, choosing party over country instead.

The political allies of those declaring a free press as enemy won’t care about any of this. Whatever contempt they felt compelled to push back against last fall was well earned on this subject.

There’s not much Americans with a taste for a functioning democracy can do about that.

Except this:

From the archive: The miracle of the daily paper