They awaken every morning to a brand new day, just as we do. Brushing teeth, kissing spouses, grumbling at the difficulty in getting a child out of bed and ready for school. They drink their morning cuppa coffee or hot chocolate or orange juice. Some of them grab a bite to eat at home, while others are in a hurry bc that child–or those children–dragged their adorably precious, but annoying butts just a little too slow and everyone is going to be late if they don’t leave right now. Others get to take a more lackadaisical approach to the morning, relaxing with little more than the morning paper and Spotify playing in the background. There are even those who awoke before everyone else. Springing from the bed as if they just slept a week, they freshen up throw on some clothes and go for a walk/run/jog, head to they gym at the ungodly hour of it’s not even sun out yet, or hop on their bike to see the sunrise. They are us.
They eat what we eat.
Vacation in the places we vacation.
Thrill to baseball, basketball, football and no-ball just as we do.
They stress over paying the mortgage, the rent, utilities, the water bill and more, just like we do.
They gasp in shock and disbelief at the never-ending series of tragedies that unfolds on a daily basis.
They do so many of the things we do, these women, non-binary folks, and men.
In so many ways, we and they are the same. Except they are hiding a secret. A secret that, of course, they don’t want you to know. These people have insinuated themselves into the fabric of our country, eating our food, enjoying our culture, using our resources, acting as if they belong here. They go about their days with smiling faces, doing their jobs, but beneath it all, they are not our friends. They are not our family. They are not our loved ones at all. They are something more insidious.
They are the enemy. The enemy of the people.
That’s what the current occupant of the White House would have the citizens of this country think of them: journalists, reporters, the Fourth Estate, the press. It is well known by now that POTUS45 has a high level of disdain for the press. In fact, disdain is probably not a strong enough term. Given the naked hostility he regularly displays toward the press, antipathy is accurate and even hate really isn’t too far off. This is the same individual who openly admitted to wanting United States citizens to treat him as North Koreans treat their leader. Given his numerous, well documented attacks on the media (attacks with deep roots) it is not a huge leap of logic to assert that, based on his behavior over the last few years, that the forty-fifth President of the United States would prefer a state-run media, under the control of some branch, probably a new one with a catchy name like The Media Force. If the media were government controlled, one can easily imagine that new coverage of him would be far more favorable. Because favorable coverage, rather than honest, accurate truth telling is what the media should be about in his eyes.
Whether he is a Machiavellian schemer with long term plans for transforming the United States into an authoritarian wet dream or if he’s a racist rapist who parlayed his questionable business acumen into a reality show and later the highest office in this country (with a bit of help, “Hi Russia and Electoral College”), one thing is true: his attacks on the press are not criticisms of the results of their reporting. They are outright denials of the validity of everything reported by the press. He would have people believe that the media cannot be trusted (except of course for the White Supremacist Propaganda Network, aka “Fox News”) and are telling lies with the goal of besmirching his name. To his eyes, a properly functioning media should always speak respectfully of the person in charge, not tell any stories that make him (always a him, too) look badly, and certainly not tell anything that threatens to strip away his facade. Can’t have anyone recognizing that he is the personification of White Male Mediocrity who got where he is on the strength of Lady Luck, rather than any skills he honed over the years.
Contrary to what 45 thinks, it is the job of the press to report the news accurately. It is not the job of the press to investigate stories and report on them through a lens of “will this hurt the feelings of the President”. Despite what he thinks, the press aims to report the facts accurately, honestly, and transparently. That often puts them in the cross-hairs of politicians who may feel that the press has gone too far or has personally attacked them. Worse, those politicians with something unsavory, illicit, unethical, immoral, or illegal they wish to keep hidden may come to despise the press for uncovering their secrets. But that’s the thing: uncovering secrets, exposing lies, shining a light on the truth is their job. More importantly, they perform an indispensable role in our democracy. By speaking the truth and not shying away from harsh realities for fear of hurt political feelings, the press enables (in theory at any rate) the citizens of this country to make informed decisions. Armed with the truth, we can (again, in theory) decide on the proper course of action in tackling the problems of the world.
It is with all of that in mind–most especially the incessant, unending, and I must say long since tiresome, refrain of fake news–that led the Boston Globe to send a call to newsrooms big and small. “Help us defend the integrity of our profession from the ongoing toxic attacks of the current leader of this country and help reaffirm the values that we all hold dear”. That call went out last week and was answered by more than 300 newspapers across the country. Today, those papers joined forces and released their own personalized editorials, all defending, in their way, the institution of journalism, countering the harmful rhetoric of the President, and reminding readers of the important role the Fourth Estate plays in the lives of the people in this country. It would be beyond the scope of this post to link to even half of those papers. Thankfully, it’s not beyond the scope of the New York Times. They have excerpted many of the editorials and you can read them here (just hover over and click the name of the paper and you’ll be able to read their editorial in full).
Here’s a taste:
“Like routine medical care, community journalism creates a baseline of information that aids in the detection of deeper issues, and at its best, serves to prevent problems from developing. When the Gazette breaks a story, it is based on an intimate knowledge of the Island, its citizens and its institutions that has been built from the ground up.”
“We’re not separate from the public. We are the public. We live and work and play in Topeka and surrounding areas. We go to restaurants and send our children to school. We drive the same roads, see the same doctors. We’re not the enemy of the people. We are the people.”
“Oliver Emmerich, a conservative Mississippian who founded the company that has owned this newspaper for decades, understood more than most the danger of championing a free and independent press. During the tumultuous summer of 1963, the KKK burned crosses at his home and newspaper office, the Enterprise-Journal in McComb. The paper’s response was a simple yet courageous and effective one: Publish stories about that domestic terrorism on its front page, the very thing the attackers meant to prevent from happening.”
“Press freedom is enshrined in the First Amendment and is the bedrock of American democracy. What is less understood is that adherence to these principles has a profound impact on press freedom and the rights of journalists all over the world. When American leaders stand up for a free press, they embolden courageous journalists who put their lives and liberty on the line to report the news. And when American leaders fall short, they embolden the autocrats who seek to repress those journalists.”
That’s just the tip of the tip of the iceberg. There’s much more to read from these newspapers. As you’re reading through, keep in mind the central importance of accurate, factual reporting in a functioning democracy. Recall also, that the persistent, consistent, and malicious attacks on the press by the President–in addition to be antithetical to the values of our country–are considered one of the steps to fascism. Fascism in the United States would look quite a bit different than a fascist government in World War 2, but just sharing in one or two characteristics of a fascist regime ought to be worrying. Sharing all 14 is horrifying. All the more so because we don’t know where or when this downward spiral will end, nor how many people will suffer and die along the way.