‘We are not the enemy’

The Boston Globe asked news media around the country to editorialize today in support of a free press. A few hundred papers took the Globe up on the challenge. A lot of others didn’t.

Thanks to comment sections. These sort of things are inviting media to lead with their jaw. But, as the saying goes, they persisted.

Here’s the Globe’s editorial. See if it reminds you of someone else who once spoke truth to power.

A central pillar of President Trump’s politics is a sustained assault on the free press. Journalists are not classified as fellow Americans, but rather “the enemy of the people.” This relentless assault on the free press has dangerous consequences. We asked editorial boards from around the country – liberal and conservative, large and small – to join us today to address this fundamental threat in their own words.

Replacing a free media with a state-run media has always been a first order of business for any corrupt regime taking over a country. Today in the United States we have a president who has created a mantra that members of the media who do not blatantly support the policies of the current US administration are the “enemy of the people.” This is one of the many lies that have been thrown out by this president, much like an old-time charlatan threw out “magic” dust or water on a hopeful crowd.

For more than two centuries, this foundational American principle has protected journalists at home and served as a model for free nations abroad. Today it is under serious threat. And it sends an alarming signal to despots from Ankara to Moscow, Beijing to Baghdad, that journalists can be treated as a domestic enemy.

The press is necessary to a free society because it does not implicitly trust leaders — from the local planning board to the White House. And it’s not a coincidence that this president — whose financial affairs are murky and whose suspicious pattern of behavior triggered his own Justice Department to appoint an independent counsel to investigate him — has tried so hard to intimidate journalists who provide independent scrutiny.

There was once broad, bipartisan, intergenerational agreement in the United States that the press played this important role. Yet that view is no longer shared by many Americans. “The news media is the enemy of the American people,” is a sentiment endorsed by 48 percent of Republicans surveyed this month by Ipsos polling firm. That poll is not an outlier. One published this week found 51 percent of Republicans considered the press “the enemy of the people rather than an important part of democracy.”

Trump’s attack feedback loop helps explain why his faithful are following him into undemocratic territory. More than a quarter of Americans now say that “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior,” including 43 percent of Republicans. Thirteen percent of those surveyed thought that “President Trump should close down mainstream news outlets, like CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times.”

Trump can’t outlaw the press from doing its job here, of course. But the model of inciting his supporters in this regard is how 21st-century authoritarians like Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan operate; you don’t need formal censorship to strangle a supply of information.

Trump’s apologists feebly insist that he is referring only to biased coverage, rather than the entire fourth estate. But the president’s own words and long track record show again and again just how deeply cynical and dishonest this argument is.

The nation’s Founding Fathers took for granted that the press would be biased and yet they still explicitly enshrined the freedom of journalists and publishers in the Constitution. “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost,” wrote Thomas Jefferson.

American politicians of all parties since the Founders have groused about the media, trying to work the refs by arguing that the news is biased against their tribe. But there was always respect for the press as an institution. It was not that long ago that Ronald Reagan proclaimed, “Our tradition of a free press as a vital part of our democracy is as important as ever.”

“The press was to serve the governed, not the governors,” Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote in 1971. Would that it were still the case. Today, the only media that Trump’s movement accepts as legitimate are those that unquestioningly advocate for its leader personally.

Indeed, it is not just that the president is stoking domestic division for political and personal gain, he’s asking his audiences to follow him into Fantasia. “Just stick with us, don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news,” he told an audience in Kansas last month. “Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” George Orwell put it more gracefully in his novel “1984.” “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

It is an essential endpoint to Trump’s deluge of dishonesty that he now contests objective reality and urges his supporters to do the same. In the first 558 days of his presidency, Trump made 4,229 false or misleading claims, according to a list compiled by The Washington Post. Yet among Trump supporters, only 17 percent think that the administration regularly makes false claims. “Alternative facts” have become de facto.

Lies are antithetical to an informed citizenry, responsible for self-governance. The greatness of America is dependent on the role of a free press to speak the truth to the powerful. To label the press “the enemy of the people” is as un-American as it is dangerous to the civic compact we have shared for more than two centuries.

Locally, the conservative Pioneer Press pulled its punches, refusing to see anything significantly different in President Trump’s attacks on the media.

President Trump’s generalized criticisms of journalists are over the top, and there’s cause for concern when a commander in chief is profligate with the use of “enemy of the people.” But declining trust in news media began long before Trump showed up. That decline has many causes; some of it we brought on ourselves by being insufficiently committed to fairness and diversity of thought and experience.

In any case, we news people don’t control any president or governor or mayor or anybody else. All we control are our own actions, the skills and behaviors central to our craft, the pursuit of ideals we say we’re for — independence, fair-mindedness, even-handedness, holding government to account regardless of who’s in charge.

The more liberal Star Tribune echoed its Twin Cities sister, noting that it has always been in the interest of power to attack a free press. It said the president’s followers are the real threat to democracy.

That is a threat to the democracy we have known and, as populations in other countries know too well, a fateful step on the road to authoritarianism. That is why, on this one day, newspapers across the country are taking the extraordinary step of presenting a unified front, to demand that journalists be allowed to do their jobs, without threat, without intimidation. To declare that such freedom must extend from the local reporter covering a small-town school board meeting to the White House press corps.

Minnesota journalists have faced this kind of strategic grudge match before, when former Gov. Jesse Ventura, a one-time wrestler, did his best to make a foil out of the state’s Capitol press corps, even labeling them, Trump-style, as “media jackals” and raging at stories that pushed on his vulnerabilities. The reporters are still here, still doing the job, still asking impertinent questions. And Ventura? He’s part of the media. The Russian media, that is, a commentator on RT, a Kremlin-funded network formerly known as Russia Today.

“Whether it’s a result of widespread discrediting of the media, even those working responsibly, or of tariffs on newsprint that seem meant only to drive up the cost of producing newspapers, newsrooms are shrinking,” the Duluth News Tribune said in its editorial today. “Fewer true journalists are out there digging and reporting. More and more of our nation is going unserved by daily or even weekly newspaper reporting, and with no TV or radio to pick up the slack.”

And in Mankato, the appropriately named Free Press puts its local expertise up against outsider politicians.

The top five longest tenured editors and reporters in The Free Press newsroom have more than 150 years of experience covering this community. They wouldn’t survive that long if they didn’t have reputations for seeking the truth, reporting it and getting it right. They wouldn’t have lasted that long doing “fake news.”

Speaking of “fake news,” there is one fact that rarely if ever gets brought up about the concept of fake news. The president would have us believe the press can do fake news whenever it wants, fake being not true.

Unfortunately, if the press created as much fake news as the president leads us to believe, libel lawyers would be having a heyday. While truth is nearly always an absolute defense in libel cases, falsity is almost always an absolute win for libel lawyers.

So, legally, fake news couldn’t happen without the press losing a lot of money. And, you just don’t see a lot of libel cases coming up in this era of supposed “false news.”

Other significant newspapers in the area — the St. Cloud Times, the Fargo Forum, the Rochester Post Bulletin did not participate in today’s unified defense.

  • BJ

    I remember the conversation a day or two ago, started out about Sam Adams brewing. Someone said why – if the tax cuts aren’t as big as people think and the withholding was just reduced – isn’t the media covering it. My comment was they did, lots of really big massive stories on it. But was called fake news. And now those people that believed they got a massive tax break are going to get a huge surprise April 2019 (or before). I wonder who they will blame, I wonder what Mr fake news will have to say about it.

    • >>I wonder who they will blame, I wonder what Mr fake news will have to say about it.<<

      And those paying attention can just tell those "fake news" people that the news wasn't fake at all and back up those statements with citations to that "fake news" that, surprise, wasn't "fake" at all.

  • jon

    “So, legally, fake news couldn’t happen without the press losing a lot of money.”

    I don’t know that “if we are lieing we’d be losing money like crazy!” is the best defense for the newspaper industry…

    • That’s your takeaway? You just read through a bunch of editorials presenting the best defense of the news industry and you pulled that out as the “best defense”?

  • Mike

    Yes, Trump’s attacks on the press are dangerous, but the incorrect response to that threat would be a reflexive and unqualified defense of the mainstream media, who mislead and misdirect quite frequently when it suits the people in power.

    It’s especially rich that the Star Trib smacks Jesse Ventura for working for RT. When it comes to foreign policy issues, the Minneapolis paper of record is hardly better than state media, relying as it does on numerous stories from the New York Times and the Washington Post quoting anonymous government officials. And truly, there’s some programming on RT that’s far more perceptive about American foreign policy than anything you’ll find in those establishment rags.

    Trump’s ability to derange otherwise rational people is notable. For example, I never thought I’d see liberals defending the FBI and CIA – oppressive institutions that have repressed dissent in this country and have been responsible for the murders of untold thousands abroad. Yet apparently just because Trump badmouths those agencies, they suddenly become icons of unimpeachable virtue and integrity.

    I guess a binary political system induces the public to see every problem the same way. That kind of thinking, however, does little to help us out of the current mess. The enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend.

    • The Resistance

      If this is the incorrect response to the leader of a democratic republic calling the free press the enemy of the people, what should the correct response be?

      • Mike

        The correct response would be a press that stops genuflecting before the Pentagon and the CIA, that actually starts investigating and holding the powerful to account, and accurately reporting on crucial issues.

        • kevins

          You have an interesting view of what and who liberals and progressives are. I hope that you can understand that it is possible to simultaneously respect and be suspect of the same government institutions, especially CIA, FBI and Pentagon.

          It was the “press” in combination with individuals within government security agengies that outed Nixon. Trump is making Nixon look pedestrian. I look forward to more healthy collaboration between the press and government agencies, and I look forward to reading about the Trump Crime Family going to prison.

          • Mike

            I can understand how a reporter might form a relationship with a unique individual in those agencies who has demonstrated some integrity. I can’t understand why a reporter would gullibly reprint the agencies’ press release and proclamations without questioning them or demanding evidence of claims.

        • The Resistance

          I may have been unclear, sorry. What I meant was what should be the response of the press to the president when he calls them the enemy of the people?

    • Rob

      Liberals have quite appropriately criticized the FBI for its infringements on civil liberties. When the FBI operates within the rule of law, liberals are fine with how it rolls. The T.Rump investigation doesn’t involve any suppression of dissent or extrajudicial killings. The FBI is merely following the evidence and the money.

      • Mike

        There has been little attention in the mainstream press to the elaborate ways that the FBI has entrapped “terrorists” since 9/11. Instead, the press breathlessly reports on the latest sting, without mentioning the great lengths the FBI went to in order to entrap what are in some cases mentally vulnerable people and/or members of unpopular groups like Muslims.

        • Example.

          • Mike
          • Ah, OK. So you learned about something important from a free press.

            What’s your point again?

          • Mike

            My point is that the elite, mainstream press is cynically using Trump’s attacks to defend themselves when the facts suggest their reporting is often terrible and not worthy of defense.

            Like I said, I think Trump’s attacks on the press are dangerous. That doesn’t mean I’m going to get upset when he lambastes the Washington Post.

            See the difference?

          • Barton

            No.

          • The Resistance

            Not really.
            What we’re talking about is calling the entire free press fake news and the enemy of the people.
            That includes the Worthington Daily Globe and the Washington Times. The whole kit and kaboodle that comprises the fourth pillar of democracy.

          • Mike

            The powers that be don’t care about the Worthington Daily Globe. They care about the Washington Post. If the former went under tomorrow, no one in the establishment would blink an eye. But the latter is a valuable instrument for disseminating propaganda.

          • The Resistance

            Thanks for your response and good luck with your future subscription to state run media. I’ve decided I’m not in the mood to play peekaboo with the kid in the airplane seat in front of me so I’m logging out of Newscut for the day.

          • There’s power in Worthington. If the Worthington Daily Globe speaks truth to it, the people of Worthington benefit.

            I’ll bet if you talked to a reporter in Worthington sometime, they’ll tell you plenty of stories about the attempts to abuse that power.

            Your definition of power probably excludes the Spencer, Iowa newspaper, too.

            But it won a Pulitzer for “editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.”

            Americans simply have to be smarter about these sorts of things. But instead they watch their 24/7 cable shows with their inner Beltway mentality and think this is the sum and substance of power.

            It’s not.

          • Mike

            Why do you think I don’t value good local reporting? I’m saying the national establishment doesn’t care much one way or the other.

            And yes, people who glue themselves to cable news are morons. I don’t care what channel it is.

          • Rob

            I think you’re confusing propaganda and sycophant organs, such as The Hannity Report, with the mainstream media.

          • That’s fine but, like “Frank” (Reggie, whatever) does, you’ve used a sleight-of-hand by changing “free press’ to “mainstream media” to take issue with the defense of the First Amendment.

            Your declaration that some reporting is not worthy of defense confirms a basic ignorance of that very amendment.

            The strength of that amendment comes almost EXCLUSIVELY from the defense of abhorent speech. From your test of what reporting should be defended, it sounds like you would’ve reached a different conclusion in the case of Jay Near and the Minnesota Gag Law.

            That reporter was the very definition of scumbag.

            The defense of him created one of the strongest pillars of the First Amendment in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near_v._Minnesota

          • Mike

            No, I never said they don’t have the right to free speech. But to the extent that notion gets conflated with a defense of their actual reporting, that’s where I get off the bus. It’s a distinction worth noting.

          • Rob

            When T.Rump attacks the press constantly and viciously, and incites his adherents to attack reporters, that’s waaaaaay beyond mere lambasting. That is pure and simple thug behavior.

          • RBHolb

            No, I don’t see the difference. You’re not defending a “free press” if you’re defending it only when it meets your standards of professionalism.

        • Rob

          Again, when the FBI operates within the rule of law, I got no problem with them. Their entrapment activities are reprehensible and a profound waste of personnel and money. OTOH, utilizing legal investigative means to determine whether T.Rump conspired with Russian officials and oligarchs is exactly the kind of activity the FBI should be engaged in.

          • Mike

            Is the bureau devoting equal energy to inappropriate and/or illegal Saudi influence in our government? Obviously not. They are our “ally” (which produced 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11, of course, but no one ever wanted to talk about that).

            The Russia hysteria is 90% the Mighty Wurlitzer of military-industrial complex propaganda. Americans have been conditioned for decades to hate and fear Russia. It’s a script that’s easy to reactivate when necessary by the people who make lots of money off fear.

          • Rob

            My dear sainted mother used to say, ‘“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” There’s tons of info indicating that the investigation into T.Rump’s Russia connections and election meddling is anything but hysteria.

          • Mike

            OK, but surely you realize that the Saudis, the UAE, and others would never be investigated because too many people in DC make lots of money off them. There are no Russia-funded think tanks in DC, but that place is awash in Gulf kingdom oil money.

          • Rob

            I still remember that, even though most of the 9/11 attackers were Saudis, we didn’t go after Saudi Arabia because of our “special relationship” with them. Instead, we attacked Afghanistan and Iraq.

            So yeah, I get that there’s political pressure not to act against the Saudis.

      • jon

        A measure of how much you believe in freedom is a willingness to defend the rights of those you find reprehensible…

        The FBI has the rights, under the law, to do their job… when they exceed that authority they need to be called into question… when they face an attack for partisan purposes they deserve our defense…

        It’s a testament to the NRA and hollywood how much the world is now viewed in a perspective of Good guys (with guns) and bad guys (with guns), and how any one who disagrees with you ever is a bad guy (forever).

        Good people/organizations do bad things, and that needs to be corrected… bad people/organizations do good things, and that should be encouraged… but to say “you agree with them now just because some one you don’t like attacked them!” misses the point of WHAT people agree with rather than WHO… it’s not us vs. them it’s about principles and ideal… and the fact that so many people can miss that… and throw away their principles and ideals in exchange for a cult of personality…………. it’s getting really depressing.

        • // is a willingness to defend the rights of those you find reprehensible

          I’ve always said: Pick anything enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Any right at all. I’ll show your a reprehensible person who’s responsible for guaranteeing you still have it.

          • RBHolb

            As Felix Frankfurter once so aptly pointed out, “It is a fair summary of history to say that the safeguards of liberty have frequently been forged in controversies involving not very nice people.”

          • rasm0225

            I can imagine a Newscut post of you showing 10 reprehensible people defending each Amendments 1-10 could be really entertaining.

            “And now for Article III; this jerk in Hawaii is…”

          • I actually have written that in the past. Rapist responsible for Miranda etc., And of course Jay Near — anti-Semite, anti-Catholic — made the First Amendment cut.

          • jon

            Article III isn’t an amendment…
            It defines the judiciary…
            Article III is what let’s jerks in hawaii test/define the extents and limits of the bill of rights.

          • Benefit of the doubt: I’m quite certain he meant amendment.

            Stand down.

          • rasm0225

            Opps, sorry, I did mean amendment!

          • jon

            In that case… there aren’t many court case around the 3rd amendment…

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engblom_v._Care

            Not much help there… Though I’ll gladly be the jerk who refuses to quarter soldiers should they ever ask to be housed on my property.

    • I feel you. I have the same reaction when I see conservatives embracing Russia. Up is down and down is up these days. We’re doomed.

      • Mike

        At least Trump’s embrace of Russia might help to reduce the risk of a nuclear confrontation, which should always be at the top of the list of concerns. The liberals, on the other hand, equate Facebook ads and online trolls with “acts of war”. I wonder if they realize where rhetoric like that can lead.

        • jon

          To a democracy?

        • // At least Trump’s embrace of Russia might help to reduce the risk of a nuclear confrontation, which should always be at the top of the list of concerns.

          Surrendering in a war does the same thing.

          • Mike

            Are we at war with Russia? Why not launch missiles then?

            We meddled in Russia’s election in 1996. They might have meddled in ours in 2016 (though we just have to take the CIA’s word for it). Seems pretty even to me.

          • >>They might have meddled in ours in 2016 (though we just have to take the CIA’s word for it).<<

            …and the word of FBI, NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (which oversees 13 other intelligence agencies).

            Other groups that came to the same conclusion: Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, The Justice Department, even the White house Press Secretary has acknowledged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

          • Mike

            Yes, well the provenance of all that handwringing is also cause for skepticism.

            Stephen Cohen is a professor emeritus of NYU and specialist in Russian Studies. He writes a regular column for The Nation.

            https://www.thenation.com/article/russiagates-core-narrative-always-lacked-actual-evidence/

          • >>Yes, well the provenance of all that handwringing is also cause for skepticism.<<

            Or, you know, it could just be the truth…

          • Rob

            Laughing – and crying – out loud.

        • RBHolb

          “At least Trump’s embrace of Russia might help to reduce the risk of a nuclear confrontation, which should always be at the top of the list of concerns.”

          How about undermining the integrity of our democratic institutions? Burying us from within, as it were.

  • Frank

    As the Pioneer Press correctly observes, the discrediting of the media has been an ongoing process for many years, and no one has done more to damage the value of the press than the press itself. Ink stained leftists are just at a loss to understand why people refuse to quietly consume their propaganda any more.

    The marketplace of ideas has rejected the press. They are free as the wind to continue to ply their trade but until some real ethics are returned to newsrooms, their bellowing will continue to be recognized for what it is; Tales
    Told by raving zealots, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing

    • It’s curious to see people equate the idea of a “free press” with a political philosophy when, in fact, the country is full of press organizations of all sorts of stripes, newspapers — as you point out with regard to the Pioneer Press — of varying philosophy, all of whom fit under the single institutional identity that the Founding Fathers sought to protect from those in power.

      So when you see “the press” equated with “the liberals” , you have to understand the sleight-of-hand technique that partisans are using to undercut democracy.

      To that extent, the Star Tribune is correct. The real threat to the future of America is Americans.

      • Frank

        So one of, what was it hundreds… calls a spade a spade?

        It’s not just the print media. Television, radio and especially social media are waging a proxy war against viewpoints that stray from the prevailing leftist memes of the day.

        You can defend it; but you deny it at the risk of losing all credibility. And that is the road the mainstream media has chosen to take.

        So be it. News is a commodity. The marketplace will choose the media’s fate.

        • The Resistance

          In this case, the executive branch of the government is deciding to choose the media’s fate by using its power to discredit it in a wholesale manner.

          • Frank

            I don’t need the government or any one person to tell me when I’m being fed propaganda.

        • Again the sleight of hand by equating free press with “mainstream media”

          • Frank

            Destroying the press’s credibility has been a team effort, but if you want something to blame, blame social media.

            Before Twitter, reporters and news casters would have had to make a conscious decision to reveal their motivations, or an inopportune open mic to let us know what gives them a tingling in their legs.

            Now it’s just a stream of consciousness confessional.

        • Rob

          If you’d said that Fox News and other right-wing organs are waging an outright war on viewpoints that are based in objective reality, you’d be on to something.

          • Frank

            Fox news is blatantly right wing. But they do include leftist viewpoints in their programming.

          • Rob

            Only to hammer them.

          • Frank

            If they had a coherent argument, they wouldn’t get hammered.

            You ever see a conservative on MSNBC?

    • Rob

      Half of Republicans think the (non-state) press is the enemy of the people. Americans in general, and the other 50% of Republicans who have not drunk T.Rump, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh’s Kool-aid, know better.

      • Frank

        1/3 of America knows collectivism always brings ruin and suffering, and calls the media that supports it the enemy of free people.

        1/3 thinks that ruin and suffering are the way to go, as long as its equally distributed among the masses. They think the media that supports them is swell.

        1/3 thinks they’ll have another beer.

        • Rob

          Que?

        • Two thirds of Americans can’t name all three branches of government. Thirty-seven percent of Americans can’t name A SINGLE RIGHT guaranteed by the first amendment *

          Only 28 percent of Americans have read the entire U.S. Constitution.

          Americans in their arrogance, spend a ridiculous amount of time pushing back against the tools to cure their civic illiteracy.

          (*Annenburg Center)

          • Frank

            I know; it’s a disgrace. And I believe that is the result of a concerted effort on the part of the leftists that control the public schools.

            My kids attended parochial private schools and can recite every article in the Bill of Rights.

            A copy of the US Constitution has always hung in our house.

          • kevins

            Leftists control the public schools?? Been to N or S Dakota?

  • MrE85

    There’s a way to stop this, sane America. Since his party’s leadership shows no interest in curbing the man or his message, elect enough Democrats to assume control and see what they can do. You have two and a half months to pick the people who can do the job. We selected our slate earlier this week,

    On November 6, it’s up to you. Come on, surprise us by showing up for once.

  • crystals

    We just got our Strib bill for the next year. It’s a big number, when you look at it on its face, and I know my partner is questioning whether it’s the best use of money. I look at what that breaks down to per day (a little over a dollar), the happiness it brings me (the crossword page), and the service it does for our country (like this editorial) and will gladly fork over my money to make sure the paper can keep doing what it does.

  • AL287

    Donald Trump wouldn’t know the truth if it hit him in the face like a sledgehammer.

    I find it ironic that it is a well spoken, well educated, African American woman standing her ground with the racist-in-chief. I’m sure it is driving him nuts.

    Of course he is going to do his worst and call her a “dog”, “stupid” and even the “n” word because that’s what his minions believe about POC. His base is as racist as he is, they just hide it well.

    My son summarized it well in an essay about the Holocaust he wrote as a freshman in high school and I emphasize he was 15 when he wrote it.

    “The German people traded their citizenship for a part in a dangerous dictatorship with catastrophic results.”

    The Republicans are in power and will do and say anything to stay there including keeping a “dictator” in the White House and giving him free rein to trample all over our democracy and the principles our founding fathers wrote into the Constitution.

    What part of dangerous and catastrophic do Americans not understand?