Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Trump’s Media War Is a Dangerous Mission

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press.” Thomas Jefferson  

Of all the bizarre acts and statements in the first forty days of the Trump Administration, perhaps the most contemptible is the war declared with the media. Well, not all press outlets, just news organizations opposed to presidential proposals, actions, executive orders and the multitude of skewed facts they disseminate. The ones who agree get a free pass and even praise from His Highness uh, I mean President Trump. Those who dissent are subject to exclusion from press briefings and relentless attacks.
 In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, a majority of Americans think the press has been too critical of the president since he was elected. Fifty-one percent said the media has been too critical while 41 percent said the press has been mostly fair and objective. Obviously, the majority polled knows or cares little about the First Amendment.
While frequently criticizing Trump may seem unwarranted to some, it is perfectly acceptable, unless one has a problem with the Constitution’s Freedom of the Press mandate. And, those who have a problem with that have not earned the right to be called a patriot or wear a flag lapel pin or display the Stars and Stripes on their property.
At first it was only a war of words, with Trump and his staff condemning media outlets that continually criticize them. However, it became critical after seven news organizations, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and CNN, were excluded from last Friday’s White House press briefing. This unprecedented, precarious crusade is a doomed mission that can only have detrimental effects on American democracy.
For those who need a reminder, the media, in Nazi Germany, was considered the enemy and referred to as “lügenpresse,” a derogatory word meaning “lying press.” This and other actions, such as immigration raids, are parallels that portend fascism.  
It’s no coincidence that freedom of the press became a vital part of the First Amendment when the Bill of Rights was drafted. Among other freedoms, it plainly states, “Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom…of the press…”
Freedom of the press was incorporated because, after breaking away from British rule, the founding fathers were well aware that if government could block opinions or stories they disliked, then the public would be less informed. One crucial press responsibility — after gathering, checking and reporting the facts — is to function as a government watchdog. In that respect, the media has effectively used its First Amendment rights countless times to hold public officials accountable. That role earned the media the label “Fourth Estate” or “fourth branch of government,” that fits well with the system of checks and balances among our Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches.
The American press cannot remain silent. Now is the time for all media — newspapers, broadcast and cable networks and online news sites — to unite and collectively protest the Trump Administration’s “enemy of the people” policy that excludes any media or journalist from White House press events. Because next time, regardless of their editorial perspective, they might be the ones under attack, denounced and excluded.
It’s perfectly acceptable to criticize any elected representative with whom journalists find fault, but it is unacceptable to exclude journalists when you disagree with what they report. For as long as the press has criticized, governments have retaliated rationally and irrationally. However, in most cases, irrational responses came from authoritarian and dictatorial leaderships. If the Trump Administration can’t deal with it and counter with lucid arguments, then perhaps they need to chuck their righteous indignation and remember what President Harry S. Truman said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Even the most naïve knew HST’s remark was not a culinary reference.
Attacks on the media are tolerable, but when constant bashing and criticism are directed by the president and his staff, it’s alarming and dangerous
The following modified excerpt is taken from a column, which subsequently earned a National Newspaper Association Award, I wrote one month after the Twin Towers fell. Nonetheless, it’s particularly relevant for the current political climate: We may revile and condemn, but we must not silence minority voices  in print or spoken  opposed to majority views. When that’s sanctioned, victory is not only hollow, but adversely affects the fundamental rights our forefathers deemed crucial to this nation’s foundation. 
"Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy." Walter Cronkite