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US Newsrooms To Trump: We're Not Enemies Of The People

August 16, 2018 - 8:47 am
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) -- Newspapers from Maine to Hawaii pushed back against President Donald Trump's attacks on "fake news" Thursday with a coordinated series of editorials speaking up for a free and vigorous press.

The coordinated editorials are meant to defend journalists who have been accused by the president of being "the enemy of the people."

The Boston Globe came up with the idea, inviting others to join. It estimated that some 350 newspapers would participate.

The New York Times editorial noted that Thomas Jefferson famously said in 1787, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” He became less enthusiastic as president, the paper noted, but "his discomfort also illustrates the need for the right he helped enshrine."

"In 2018, some of the most damaging attacks are coming from government officials," the Times editorial board wrote. "Criticizing the news media — for underplaying or overplaying stories, for getting something wrong — is entirely right. News reporters and editors are human, and make mistakes. Correcting them is core to our job. But insisting that truths you don’t like are 'fake news' is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. And calling journalists the 'enemy of the people' is dangerous, period.

The editorial urges readers to subscribe to their local paper, to praise those papers when they do a good job and to criticize them when they don't.

"We're all in this together," the Times wrote.

The New York Post ran an editorial saying it supports a free and vibrant press, adding that journalists are not the enemy of the people. But it also took a shot at Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo for their run-ins with the press.

"It may be frustrating to argue that just because we print inconvenient truths doesn’t mean that we’re fake news, but being a journalist isn’t a popularity contest. All we can do is to keep reporting," the Post editorial read. "Trump and de Blasio will continue to bash the press because it riles up their bases. When you can’t argue the merits, you blame the messenger."

The Chicago Tribune's editorial was headlined, "Mr. President: We aren’t enemies of the people. We’re a check on government."

"In sum: We aren’t the reflexive resistance Trump evidently imagines when he hears the word 'journalists,'" the editorial read. "We aren’t enemies of the American people. But many of us have fielded enough angry threats — in the streets, on our phones and at our computers — to chafe when a president calls us that."

The Chicago Sun-Times said it believed most Americans know that Trump is talking nonsense, and said it was the enemy of violence, societal failings, and other crises.

"We are, at the Sun-Times, the enemy of unchecked authority and undeserved privilege. We are the enemy of self-entitlement. We are the enemy of the notion that the only way up is to hold somebody else down," the Sun-Times editorial read.

The Portland, Maine Press-Herald said a free and independent press is the best defense against tyranny, while the Honolulu, Hawaii Star-Advertiser emphasized democracy's need for a free press.

"The true enemies of the people — and democracy — are those who try to suffocate truth by vilifying and demonizing the messenger," wrote the Des Moines Register in Iowa.

In St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch called journalists "the truest of patriots." The Fayetteville, N.C. Observer said it hoped Trump would stop, "but we're not holding our breath."

"Rather, we hope all the president's supporters will recognize what he's doing — manipulating reality to get what he wants," the North Carolina newspaper said.

The Morning News of Savannah, Georgia, said it was a confidant, not an enemy, to the people.

"Like any true friend, we don't always tell you want you want to hear," the Georgia newspaper said. "Our news team presents the happenings and issues in this community through the lens of objectivity. And like any true friend, we refuse to mislead you. Our reporters and editors strive for fairness."

Some newspapers used history lessons to state their case. The Elizabethtown Advocate in Elizabethtown, Penn., for instance, compared free press in the United States to such rights promised but not delivered in the former Soviet Union.

Other newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote editorials explaining why they weren't joining the Globe's effort. The Chronicle wrote that one of its most important values is independence, and going along with the crowd went against that. Both the Chronicle and Baltimore Sun said that it plays into the hands of Trump and his supporters who think the media is out to get him.

The Wall Street Journal says the president has the right to free speech as much as his media adversaries.

The Los Angeles Times, also declining to participate in the editorial campaign, published an editorial that the coordinated defensive editorials give Trump ammunition.

“The president himself already treats the media as a cabal — ‘enemies of the people,’ he has called us, suggesting over and over that we’re in cahoots to do damage to the country,” LA Times editorial pages editor Nicholas Goldberg wrote. “The idea of joining together to protest him seems almost to encourage that kind of conspiracy thinking by the president and his loyalists. Why give them ammunition to scream about ‘collusion?’”

Nolan Finley, columnist and editorial page editor of The Detroit News, spoke up for the press but added a scolding. He said too many journalists are slipping opinion into their news reports, adding commentary and calling it context.

"Donald Trump is not responsible for the eroding trust in the media," Finley wrote. "He lacks the credibility to pull that off. The damage to our standing is self-inflicted."

The Radio Television Digital News Association, which represents more than 1,200 broadcasters and web sites, also asked its members to point out that journalists are friends and neighbors doing important work holding government accountable. Dan Shelley, the group's executive director, talked with WCBS 880's Steve Scott Thursday afternoon about the need for a free press -- saying the point was not to attack Trump or get "in the sandbox" with him.

Shelley said the effort represents an “opportunity to local journalists across the country to emphasize or reemphasize to their audiences, that, you know, we live in the same community. Our kids go to the same schools. We may attend the same houses of worship. We shop at the same grocery stores. Really? We’re the enemy of the people?”

He also said the effort should serve as a reminder to the public about the purpose of journalism.

“When we ask tough questions of public officials, we’re doing that on your behalf, and we’re doing that because you can’t be at the city council meeting. You can’t be at the school board meeting,” he said. “And the problems that we uncover, we uncover them not because we want to find dirt on somebody or because we want to create controversy. We do it because we know by shining a light on corruption and other problems in the community, those stories often lead to catalysts for positive change.”

John King of CNN emphasized that the best course of action for journalists is to “keep our heads down and do our jobs.” Shelley said it was true that “the only antidote to attacks on journalism is more and better journalism, so John King is right,” but there is more to it than that.

“We also, sadly, in today’s vitriolic, ideological environment, we have to reassert ourselves as public servants, and journalists are public servants. And we have to do that, because we’ve been attacked,” Shelley said.

He said the newspaper editorials that claimed that attacks on the press are a threat to democracy are not hyperbolic.

“The First Amendment clearly states that the government shall make no laws infringing upon the freedom of the press, and that has been interpreted by the highest court in the land for more than 70 years as meaning that the press has a place in society – not a special place; I don’t like to say special – but the press has a place in society to hold the powerful accountable, to work on behalf of the public to make sure they’re informed so they can make better decisions about their lives, their communities, their congressional district, their state, and the nation,” Shelley said.

Shelley noted that a small segment of the American public has long believed what they read, watch, or listen to in the news is not reflective of how they view society – and President Trump has taken that theme and run with it.

“The president is just amplifying or tapping into that sentiment, and amplifying it with a bullhorn – not just his bully pulpit – but a very loud bullhorn, and it does resonate with a certain segment of the population, and that’s, to use a presidential tweet term, ‘Sad, exclamation point!’” he said.

It remains unclear how much sway the effort will have. Newspaper editorial boards overwhelmingly opposed Trump's election in 2016. Polls show Republicans have grown more negative toward the news media in recent years: Pew Research Center said 85 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said in June 2017 that the news media has a negative effect on the country, up from 68 percent in 2010.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)