The free press is a fundamental part of American democracy, but President Donald Trump frequently claims it produces fake news and is the “enemy of the people” with little regard for the work of news organizations across the country.
This pseudo-war on the press goes against the values that many media organizations stand for: integrity, accuracy and a dedication to informing the public. It goes against freedom of speech, the right that all Americans have to express themselves without fear of censorship.
Trump’s own use of free speech, including his rambling tweets about the “fake disgusting news,” have become so commonplace that they should easily be dismissed as hot air. But many revel at his attempts to undermine and vilify the free press.
The media is not above criticism, and it is important that bias, misleading or otherwise incorrect information is called out. But Trump’s fixation with using “fake news” to describe information he deems uncomplimentary is a threat to freedom, justice and democracy.
When the president attacks freedom of speech and the press, he also attacks society’s ability to be informed and to inform each other.
As much as President Trump would like you to believe the opposite, journalists and news organizations aren’t entities that revel in misleading the public.
Why is it that one of the most important foundations of American democracy, one that has fought against political corruption, faulty business practices and war crimes, is now being trampled upon by the President of the United States?
Without our free press, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wouldn’t have exposed the Watergate scandal.
Without our free press, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center would still be a dilapidated government facility where wounded veterans would find themselves trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare.
Without our free press, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle wouldn’t have been published and the meatpacking industry would still be held to a low standard.
In Texas, the 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation uncovered that the Texas Education Agency illegally limited the number of students receiving special education services. Without that investigation, nearly 200,000 special needs students would be left behind.
We could name more examples of times that journalists bettered our world, but just thinking about a world without them makes our stomachs twist in knots.
President Trump, whether he doesn’t care or has forgotten, acts as though a free press is the single biggest threat to the American people.
Trump has tweeted about fake news 283 times. If you add up all his tweets about the New York Times, CNN and NBC, he has mentioned them 152 times.
A free press is what keeps President Trump in line. A free press ensures that he doesn’t get away with doing anything he wants. And frankly, that’s probably why he despises us so much.
In Trump’s America, one made “great again,” journalists would be “yes men.” They would report the president’s words without question. They would refrain from questioning elected officials. They would stop acting on behalf of the people and instead act on behalf of the government.
But that’s not democracy. That’s not freedom. That’s not what our Founding Fathers intended.
As long as there stands that star-spangled banner, the spirit of American journalism will never be defeated by someone who relies on the First Amendment to destroy the First Amendment.
We plan to keep fighting for your right to know. We hope you will support us and the rest of the American press.
*The Et Cetera is joining hundreds of publications nationwide in response to a call last week from The Boston Globe asking newspapers to remind Americans the value of free press.