Independent journalism has been critical to our country’s past; and it is absolutely essential to our country's future.
Today, we have a White House that calls real news fake and fake news real. It was bad enough when a nominee for the nation’s highest office trafficked in conspiracy theories, manipulated the media, and lied with impunity to the American people. Now that the nominee is our president, we have a recipe for disaster. And we – all of us – must rise to the defense of the Fourth Estate.
Unfortunately, the truth does not speak for itself. It is not self-evident. In our modern society, we must rely on ethical and independent journalists to tell us what is happening, to report – not distort – the news.
But this president has put a bull’s eye on the back of every credible mainstream journalist. He calls the media “totally dishonest,” “disgusting,” “corrupt,” “scum,” and – most horribly “the enemy of the American people.” His goal is simple: He wants to bully, silence, discredit, and coopt the media. If a reporter will not sing his praises – he aims to silence them – no matter the cost to our republic, no matter the damage to the First Amendment.
We know what happens in countries where the media is a nothing more than a mouthpiece for the regime. We know what happens to journalists who dare to report facts that reflect poorly on the potentate in power. They are abducted, exiled. They go missing and are imprisoned. They are killed.
In Washington, D.C., there is a place called the Newseum. It is a museum – about news. If you visit this museum, you will see a glass memorial, two stories tall. Etched in that memorial are the names of the 2,291 editors, reporters, broadcasters and photographers who died covering the news.
Not all of them died in global hotspots like Syria, Palestine, Libya, Iraq, Gaza and the Ukraine. But many of them did.
“Alternative facts” are, of course, not facts at all, but lies. Make no mistake, the Breitbart trained brown shirt that holds sway in the White House is a modern and audible echo of Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. It is important to remember the lessons of history.
At a rally on the campaign trail, the president – then the GOP nominee – discussed Vladimir Putin’s treatment of the press in Russia. After repeatedly bellowing that he hates journalists, he said he would never “kill” them. But then he seemed to reconsider saying, “Uh, Let’s see, uh, no I wouldn’t. But I do hate them.”
When reminded by Joe Scarborough that Putin kills journalists and political opponents, the response was pathetic: “At least he’s a leader.” It would seem that our president not only admires Putin, but seeks to emulate him.
No, the media is not the enemy of the American people; rather it is the reckless demagogue who stubbornly, stupidly, and wrongly makes that claim.
As the president seeks to undermine our free press, it is more important than ever that we take concrete steps to check his actions and support a diverse and independent media. There is much we can do. Here, in no particular order, are my top ten suggestions.
1. Support public television and public radio.
2. Subscribe to progressive, independent news publications – both local and national, and give gift subscriptions to your family members and friends.
3. Support public libraries.
4. Write and submit letters to the editor and/or reader’s view commentary.
5. On social media, share only stories that you know come from a credible source. If you find that you have inadvertently shared a false story, delete it and note a correction.
6. Support the Committee to Protect Journalists, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Society of Professional Journalists, and/or Common Dreams – Free Press, all non-profits that advocate for the rights of reporters to do their jobs free of intimidation, censorship, arrest, imprisonment, torture and death.
7. Support net neutrality.
8. Encourage public school administrators and trustees to emphasize media literacy at all stages of education. Also encourage public school administrators and trustees to prioritize the humanities and social sciences. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM subjects) are important. But not every student is going to need advanced training in these areas. However, every citizen is eligible to vote at age 18 and needs to be prepared to responsibly exercise the franchise.
9. Contact your U.S. Senators and Members of Congress. Tell them that you strongly oppose the president’s assault on the First Amendment and that you expect them to publicly denounce his authoritarian tactics.
10. Support candidates for public office – local, state and national – who honor the First Amendment and speak out strongly and consistently against those who, like the president, undermine it at every turn.
Make no mistake. The president’s latest tweet showing him beating up a person upon whose head the CNN logo has been superimposed is not, as his apologists assert, simply "a tongue in cheek" joke. It will, in fact, incite violence against members of the press.
It is slowly dawning on him that he will be found out. That is why he has so rapidly escalated the viciousness and frequency of his attacks on the media. He mistakenly thinks that the only way to salvage his presidency is to thoroughly discredit the free press.
In coming days, I expect the First Amendment will be subjected to unprecedented assaults from the White House. The Fourth Estate needs our support now more than ever.