First Amendment Under Fire: The Real Threat to the Republic
"No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free no one ever will." -- Thomas Jefferson
Those admitted to Spicer’s briefing -- Breitbart, Fox News, Washington Times, American News Network, and The Wall Street Journal -- are mostly in lock-step with the new administration; more inclined to parrot its policies than protest. (It’s true CBS and NBC were at the briefing, but others invited declined, choosing instead to stand with their banned colleagues.)
At his recent unscripted press conference, President Trump called the media the “enemy of the American people.”
And Thursday, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) outside of Washington, DC, the president renewed his attack on the press, saying, again, they purvey “fake news.”
This followed the performance earlier at CPAC by Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, who was equally unsparing of the media, invoking his boss’ line that the media is the “enemy.”
The media assault by the Trump White House is unprecedented in American history and should give serious pause to every true patriot; who, quite independent of where one falls along political lines -- left, right, liberal, conservative, moderate, libertarian, or independent -- should be appalled and alarmed at what can ultimately be seen as an attack on the Constitution.
Many presidents have been unhappy and angry with the press, but no president, not even Richard Nixon, started a campaign of vilification and denigration designed to destroy the media’s credibility, as has President Trump and his top aides.
These attacks, carried over from the Trump campaign, pose a clear and present danger to this Republic; because they are not just attacks on media, on a free press, they are also attacks on civil society and the institutions of American life.
Some have sought to compare the Trump administration with Hitler’s Third Reich, but that doesn’t stand up. The Reich believed that a lie repeated often enough would become fact; that was Goebbels playbook. Is it also Steve Bannon’s?
I was a press secretary to two United States senators, as well as a press aide to Bobby Kennedy in the presidential campaign of ’68, and believe I understand the media and its role, and while I know how annoying the media can be, even infuriating at times, neither the senators I served nor any other senator, congressman, governor, mayor or city council member I’ve known in my 51 years in and around politics at the national, state, and local level, ever considered, thought, weighed, discussed, or contemplated, an all-out assault on the media – that never happened!
Not one of these admirable public servants within the circle of those I have been privileged to know, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, would have been a party to any campaign to tear down the Fourth Estate; to seek its demise by damaging its credibility with the America People. The mere suggestion by staff, advisor or friend to do so, would have been roundly rejected – and, further, deemed inappropriate.
Recently, I pointed out in the wake of the president’s attacks that there are 60,200 journalists working for 1,400 American newspapers and local television news stations – and it is a lie to say 60,200 professional journalists are consciously engaged in purveying “fake news.”
To impugned 60,200 men and women is an act of aberration beyond accounting, but that is what this president is doing.
Do journalists sometimes get it wrong?
Do some allow their dislike of individual politicians and others influence their opinions?
Do journalists sometimes lie or mislead their sources to build a story?
Journalism is an imperfect profession; the men and women employed in the delivery of news are flawed human beings.
But in this journalists are no different from other professionals, whether in medicine, science, technology, finance, teaching, law, engineering, architecture, construction, clergy, or athletics.
To demand a higher standard from journalists than we demand of ourselves is unrealistic and hypocritical.
But, in fact, journalists are held to higher standards; which is fitting, as they are, in most cases, better educated, better informed and more knowledgeable.
But none of that will matter if the Trump crusade continues to roil the conversation we should be having on how to bridge the vast divide that has riven our government and politics.
I began by quoting Mr. Jefferson, so I shall I end:
“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”