Today, we join many other editorial pages across this nation in an effort to reinforce the belief a free and independent press is one of the necessary foundations of a free society.
Our founders knew it. Take the words of Samuel Adams, for instance. “There is nothing so fretting and vexatious, nothing so terrible to tyrants, and their tools and abettors, as a free press.”
We feel the need to weigh in today, due to the unrelenting rhetoric of our current president, who has been labeling the free press “the enemy of the American people.” Different newspapers will make their different points today. But that phrase is our particular thorn. Because it’s a notion that couldn’t be further from the truth.
This country’s role as a champion of a free press, and of free speech, has been a beacon of hope for many other areas of the world. It has taken many years for other countries to gain that achievement.
President Trump’s continued attacks are a disservice to those endeavors.
We can understand some irritations here and there. A free press isn’t here to coddle. But “enemy of the people?”
On a recent Fox News panel discussion, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA today, said: “This is a phrase from Stalin, is chilling, and unprecedented in modern times. It does not recognize the role that the founders saw for a free and vigorous press: to hold officials accountable and to be the friend of the American people. I think it’s enormously serious.”
Indeed, another sampling from one of our founders, Thomas Jefferson. “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.”
Of course, there are a lot more mediums than just newspapers these days. Still, a free press has been with us throughout our nearly 250-year existence. Where would we be without it? Try to imagine how our government would have evolved without the checks and balances of a free press.
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It’s a scary thought.
To continuously belittle such an important bedrock of our republic, we believe, is beneath the presidency. Whether covering the White House or a city council, journalists are covering real news every day – news that is important to communities. They are holding representatives in positions of power accountable to the people.
Every one of us who has lived their lives under the watchful eye of a free and independent press can consider ourselves extremely fortunate. It’s a critical watchdog relationship that has always been well understood in our country. Our founders understood the importance. We need to maintain that understanding — despite those who would attempt to chip away at it. We don’t want to restrict this message to this administration. We feel that the documented spying on Associated Press reporters, conducted under the Obama administration, is another example of an attack on a free and independent press.
We’d like to believe that had there been a nationwide call to action for newspapers to write editorials about those transgressions, we would have gladly entered that fray, as well. What’s worse here — overt and publicized insults through a grimace, or covert actions behind a smiling face?
We’ll leave that up to individual judgment. The bottom line here is that the press serves an extremely important function in our republic, one that requires diligence and has the mission of keeping government representatives and agencies from abusing power.
It’s a duty that is necessary at every level — from municipalities to federal positions. Is it conducted perfectly? Absolutely not. This also can be a time for self-reflection. The speed of communications has increased so dramatically in recent years that there are bound to be problems. In some respect, the media also is experiencing some new lows.
We don’t need political activists masquerading as journalists in the White House or anywhere else.
A free society can only function correctly if its citizens have timely access to information concerning its government’s dealings, and if representatives are held to acceptable standards. At the end of the day, we find it a bit depressing it has come to this.
Despite the president’s continued anti-media rhetoric, deep down, we know the American people realize that informing the public is not the action of an enemy.