Since Donald Trump emerged as a viable candidate for the presidency more than three years ago, he has used America’s free press as a whipping boy — a catapult to rally support from those who distrust any information that isn’t music to their ears. Discrediting the news media allows him to paint himself as a victim, dismiss debate and disarm his critics. He wants to be immune from scrutiny by silencing or rendering inert the people’s best sources for information.
He has hammered his disdain for the First Amendment into the public consciousness, and that’s dangerous propaganda when it comes from the highest office in the land.
President Trump labels any media outlet that does not sing his praises as “fake news,” and most repugnantly, he often describes the news media as “the enemy of the people.” It’s an unconscionable act that undermines the very fabric of a free society and has the potential to put lives in danger.
There is fake news in this country. It comes in the form of blatantly false attack stories generated by partisan thugs, not from truly legitimate news outlets. Do news media get everything right? Of course not, but to suggest that real reporters are purposefully issuing falsified information is simply an act of avoidance.
With the glaring exception of his personal back-patter, Fox News, the president hopes people will avoid media that truly inform the public.
The president also would have Americans believe that reporters and editors are unpatriotic — that we actively seek to undermine the country’s best interests. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a reason the framers of our great nation included a free press in the Constitution. Information is power, and if that information does not flow freely, the people have no power to discern the truth and form their own opinions. The free exchange of ideas is a core tenet of this democratic republic.
We cannot imagine anything more patriotic than exercising and furthering that tenet, which is what we do in the free press at every level — from the major television networks right down to your local newspaper.
President Trump paints with a broad brush. In his arguments with the national press, he makes no distinction in his rhetoric, and that has a ripple effect all the way down to the Johnson City Press.
We unfortunately have heard similar broad language from our elected officials and candidates here in Tennessee, parroting the president’s fake news claims and the old chestnut “liberal news media” whenever it suits their agendas. We are caught in that whirlwind, and in the end, this erodes the trust we have earned in our communities and upends our ability to serve your best interests.
This newspaper and thousands like it are essential to our communities. We keep you abreast of the workings of your state and local governments, schools, economic development efforts, medical care concerns and law enforcement activities. That list just scratches the surface of why we matter to you.
Yet the president of the United States wants you to treat us as your enemy.
If President Trump has a legitimate concern with a particular story, reporter or medium, by all means he should address it. But he should do so specifically and fairly.
Some might argue that the president is simply exercising his own First Amendment right to free speech. That’s certainly a fair assessment, but that does not excuse him from the responsibility to all aspects of the Constitution, which he swore to uphold on Jan. 20, 2017.
By compromising the freedom of the press outlined in that glorious document, President Trump is doing a grave disservice to democracy in diminishing your right to know.
That right is something we hold dear, and so should you.