On Thursday, more than 400 news outlets from across the country joined with The Boston Globe to publish editorials in support of a free press.
The editorials came from news outlets in nearly every state, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.
Framed by the message that “journalists are not the enemy,” as written by the Globe’s editorial board, these editorials took all forms, published in print and online, long and short, by editorial boards both conservative and liberal.
Here are some highlights from Thursday’s editorials:
The First Amendment is first for a reason. Without it, maintaining the rights guaranteed by the others would be next to impossible. The ability to espouse contrary views and confront uncomfortable truths is the bedrock of American democracy. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to a member of the Continental Congress, “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.”
At this point, it would be easy to tune out the president’s constant rebukes—to trigger the internal “blah, blah, blah” button. But that would be normalizing his attacks, so resist the temptation.
Is this really what the enemy looks like?
Climbing creaky stairs in old town halls for 7 p.m. meetings. Sitting on folding chairs for hours, sometimes the only people in the room other than the town officials. Writing stories that same night and sending them to editors who are also working late at night.
Sitting in court, rushing off to car and plane crashes, listening to grieving families, sifting through masses of government documents. Checking facts, calling people back, checking facts again. Shooting video, taking pictures, tweeting, posting online. Covering sports and music and the joyful parts of life, along with the tragedies.
Then, at the end of the workday, heading out to beat-up Honda Civics littered with McDonald’s napkins, driving home and trying to mollify their families for having missed the family dinner or the soccer game. Again. Because, you know, it was a big story.
That’s the life of your typical journalist — the “enemy of the American people,” in the words of our self-serving and misguided commander in chief.
When we think about the old adage “Don’t shoot the messenger,” we understand it to mean that the messenger is the bringer of the message, not the creator of that news or situation.
The messenger brings to light the situation, neither creating nor even supporting it.
The messenger brings the message. Which is what newspapers and the media do. They bring the message. They report the news.
Don’t shoot the messenger.
But shooting the messenger, either literally or virtually, is exactly the bulls-eye that the President of the United States is creating in labeling the press the “enemy of the people.” He is inciting violence against the messenger. With his insistence on naming news that he doesn’t like or that isn’t consistent with his own spin “fake news,” he creates an atmosphere in the country that makes the message harder to bring.
Boise Weekly and its brethren among the Association of Alternative Newsmedia have been regularly targeted over the years by a select group of men and women who have wielded power as if it were a mallet rather than a privilege. I can personally testify to being harassed and/or threatened for reporting in BW about failures of the powerful to protect the very values they’re sworn to defend. In every instance, common sense, decency and, above all, truth prevailed. Those victories didn’t come by default. They were the result of a not-so-simple pursuit of truth. It may seem obvious, but at this particular moment in our nation’s history it’s important to say these words with clarity: There is nothing fake, disgusting or sick about pursuing the truth.
We don’t believe the American people need a tutorial from the president about what to watch, read or believe. Our founding fathers trusted the people enough to give them the power to control and change our government. And they believed free speech and a free press were so fundamental to our democracy it was included in the First Amendment. Consequently, the press has played a crucial role in American history of shining a light on corruption and holding public officials accountable for their actions.
The president has used his position to incite the public against the media. He has made broad statements labeling journalists as “dangerous and sick,” “absolute scum,” “disgusting” and “very dishonest.”
As with any generalization, these remarks generally are wrong.
The public may enjoy labeling physicians as quacks, lawyers as shysters or car salesmen as hucksters, but we all know trusted doctors, attorneys and car dealers and turn to them when their skills and services are needed. When in need of reliable information, Americans turn to an independent news media.
The president’s references to all journalists as the “enemy of the American people” is wrong. It’s a slur and it is untrue.
America has long cherished its traditions of a free and independent press. It distinguishes our country from oppressive regimes the world over.
In our business, we know how much words matter. We know, too, that Trump’s references to us as the “enemy of the American People” are no less dangerous because they happen to be strategic. That is what Nazis called Jews. It’s how Joseph Stalin’s critics were marked for execution.
Every reporter who has ever covered a Trump rally knows the scratch of a threat that’s conveyed during that ritual moment when he aims the attention of the crowd to reporters, many of whom no longer stand in the press pen in the back for that reason.
And as real as the threat of physical violence is, especially after the murder of our colleagues in Annapolis, Maryland, Trump’s aggressive posture toward the First Amendment worries us even more.
Thomas Jefferson famously loathed the press, and saw it as a nuisance, but also wrote: “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and 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.”
We’re not going to ask President Trump to cease being annoyed by the media. We’d just urge him to manage his annoyance as Jefferson did. And to cut out the “enemy of the people” cracks. It’s a slur favored by tyrants, and it gives license to unstable people to threaten and harm journalists.
Trump’s rhetoric weakens the importance of a free press, creates conspiracy and further polarizes an already divided nation.
His words are not only beneath the dignity of the office he holds, but also is creating a dangerous environment for working journalists. Perhaps more terrifying are the long-term effects of this anti-media campaign. Long after Trump is gone, the seeds of mistrust he has so carefully cultivated will grow into a divided, angry population for generations to come.
President Trump did not invent political animus against the media — he has just taken advantage of it. The schism has clearly been forming for the better part of the last 25 years.
Mr. President, you are profiling us as bad people just because we belong to a certain group. You are ostracizing us just because we are doing what we are paid to do and want to do. That is nothing more than pure discrimination. And that is NOT how the United States, nor its top leader, should be.
If we just report only the favorable news and not all the news, then all we are doing is generating propaganda. Limiting the press and squashing its freedom of speech is a cornerstone of government that is not of, by or for its people.
Mr. President, we admonish you to please stop the “fake-news-this” and “evil-people-that” rhetoric that you seem to revel in doing. If you have a problem with what the news industry does, then that is between you and the people in the industry you think unfairly criticize you. Don’t label all of us an enemy of the people because that casts aspersions on a whole group who at their core are just like every other working people, especially at our local level.
However, what President Trump also is saying is “Trust only me.”
There’s a saying in journalism that I learned about 20 years ago: If your mother tells you she loves you, get a second source.
The news is not the enemy. Ignorance is the enemy.
Trump wants ignorant followers. He wants them to get their information only from him.
Ignorance is what I’m trying to prevent.
Felicia Gans can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.