I did not and will not write an analysis of Trump’s speech in Phoenix, Arizona on Tuesday night. Simply put, it was a disgusting display of lies, self-promotion, arrogance and rants against anyone and anything that has opposed him for the past seven months. Oh yes, and throw in some bullying and a few threats as well. That said, there is one element of his rambling speech that does bear shining a light on, and that is his almost non-stop attacks on the free press.
For those of you who read my blog regularly, yes, I AM obsessed with the freedom of the press and rail loudly against anything I perceive as a threat to it. Why? Because the free press is every bit as much a part of those checks and balances that rein in the person sitting in the Oval Office, and that person needs to be reined in, perhaps more than any in recent memory. Without our free press, we have no claim on being a democratic republic, a nation where people are free to speak their mind, even when it is to disagree with the person in the White House.
Is the press perfect? No, of course not. Could they do a better job? Certainly. In the words of one of my favourite New York Times writers, Nicholas Kristof …
Look, we in journalism deserve to have our feet held to the fire. We make mistakes all the time, and too often we are superficial, sensationalist, unfair, defensive or diverted by shiny objects. Critics are right that we in the national media are often out of touch with working-class America, and distressingly often, we are lap dogs instead of watchdogs.
Yet for all our failings, journalism remains an indispensable constraint on power. Trump has systematically tried to delegitimize the institutions that hold him accountable — courts, prosecutors, investigators, the media — and that’s the context for his vilification of all them, for we collectively provide monitoring that outrages him.
During Trump’s campaign-style rally (when will he realize that a) he won the bloomin’ election, and b) he will be long gone before the next?) he called journalists “sick people”, accused the news media of “trying to take away our history and our heritage” and questioned their patriotism. “I really think they don’t like our country,” he said.
For more than a year we have listened to Trump disparage the press, but on Tuesday he seemed to kick it up a notch or two. Margaret Sullivan, a media columnist for The Washington Post, called it “the most sustained attack any president has ever made on the press.”
On ABC’s Good Morning America, Cecilia Vega said on Wednesday of Trump’s Tuesday media-bashing that “this was incitement, plain and simple. This one felt different. It really feels like a matter of time, frankly, before someone gets hurt.” The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has identified 16 physical attacks on journalists in 2017, in addition to 20 arrests of journalists and 12 searches and seizures.
Mr. Kristoff agrees with Ms. Vega’s assessment, saying, “When Trump galvanizes crowds against reporters in the room, I worry that we may lose journalists in the line of duty not only in places like Syria but also right here at home. Trump will get people hurt.”
Donald Trump and his supporters keep pointing to the 2nd Amendment, but today I point to the more important 1st amendment. The freedom of the press to do their job, to keep us apprised of what our elected representatives are doing, is a stanchion of our very democracy. They are not perfect. Many a morning I get up, open up the New York Times or Washington Post website and utter a sigh of disgust as I am faced with story after story issuing the same news I read before I went to bed three hours earlier. More often than not, I have to dig for the tidbits of real news, else go to European sources such as Reuters, the Guardian or BBC. But perfect or not, they are ours. They are trying, and I do not wish to live in a world without them. I do not intend to live in a nation where journalists can be arrested for reporting something that the prez disagrees with or simply does not like.
A bit of true irony here … Trump keeps referring to the “failing New York Times”, yet nothing could be further from the truth.
The price per share of New York Times stock has nearly doubled, from $10.80 on November 3rd, to $19.95 on July 27th. And readership? According to CEO Mark Thompson, “We added an astonishing 308,000 net digital news subscriptions, making Q1 the single best quarter for subscriber growth in our history.”
That’s failure? I can’t wait to see success!
Mr. Kristof’s closing words will serve as mine also:
This is an extraordinary moment in our nation’s history, for we are enduring an epic struggle over the principles on which our country was founded. These include the idea that a flawed free press is an essential institutional check on flawed leaders.
So may I humbly suggest that when a megalomaniacal leader howls and shrieks at critics, that is when institutional checks on that leader become a bulwark of democracy.