Mr. President, stop the war on media

It is one of the hallmarks of his bombastic nature, but it is also one of the ugliest aspects of President Donald Trump’s style. It is his battle cry of “fake news” and his reference to some national media outlets as “enemies of the people.” It has only accelerated through most of his term to date and – worse – has become a catch-all phrase used by many to dismiss any news report, however true, with which a person simply doesn’t agree.

With all due respect, Mr. President, it’s time for the “fake news” theme to come to an end. Attacking media – from international and national media to community daily and weekly newspapers – in broad strokes as “fake news” is not only untruthful, it is harmful to our republic and denigrates tens of thousands of hard-working journalists around the nation who have done nothing but serve their respective communities with honor.

The animus between the president and some national media is understandable. Some national media sources have relaxed – some might say sacrificed – some of the standards by which all media should stand, when it comes to coverage of the White House. Furthermore, “fake news” does exist. All one has to do is tune in to the internet and to social media, where rumor, pernicious dishonest criticism and pure hate speech fester and spread like wildfire.

However, that isn’t Minot Daily News, nor is it the overwhelming majority of news outlets in the country. Here at Minot Daily News, we take our responsibility to fairly and accurately report the news, reflect our community and serve through steady, consistent leadership more seriously than ever. We’ve been committed to this mission and been honored to consider it a calling for well over 100 years.

Minot Daily News has been your trusted news source covering this region, from school board meetings to youth sports and to the tremendous challenges we have faced throughout our history. We’ve built that trust over more than a century of being fair, truthful and accurate in all that we do. Oh, we make mistakes; when we do, we promptly correct them. We share our opinion; when we do it falls under the banner “Opinion.” We stake out positions with which some might disagree; yet we openly and zealously solicit contrasting points of views and foster a true marketplace of ideas. This is the way it is supposed to be done, and the way it is done by most media outlets nationwide.

However, given the way “fake news” has found its way into the parlance of the day, we are deeply concerned that some of our work covering the important issues in the region could simply be brushed off by powerful interests or the uninformed as “fake news.”

Why? Because our role as watchdog journalists is to hold the powerful accountable. That can include, at times, being at odds with the position of elected leaders of a local community, or taking on top officials in state government over injustices that seem overlooked or outright ignored. Speaking truth to power is one of the most sacred obligations of a newspaper, but how easy is it for “power” to duck accountability by just throwing up the “fake news” mantra? Comparing legitimate news sources to the phantoms that lurk in the darkest corners of the internet is insidious.

Our mission has not wavered over the years. But today, when we take a position on our editorial page, or write a story detailing spending irregularities in a local community, we are now open to accusations of spreading “fake news.” That’s not only unfair, it’s flat-out incorrect and it’s harmful to our way of life in a free society.

Our goal each and every day is to provide our readers with a fair, truthful and accurate account of the happenings within our communities.

This is hardly revolutionary thinking. Our nation’s founders agreed with this approach, as they recognized that an aggressive, unfettered press is the best friend of a nation such as ours. They insisted upon it, in fact.

Congress – and, by extension, the executive branch – shall make no law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …” they mandated in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Throughout our history, presidents have been subjects of unfavorable reporting – and yes, sometimes inaccurate stories – by some in the press. Some previous presidents in the 20th century sought to change laws so as to be able to prosecute critical journalists. The immediate past president railed openly against a news source and analysts with whom he did not agree; and utilized the FBI to harass a non-compliant journalist. This tense relationship is not new.

Yet no president has attempted to pit the American people against journalists to the extent that Trump has. None has painted the media with as large a brush. None openly declared the media “enemies of the people.” This latter assertion is particularly insidious because of the capacity for it to inspire violence against and harassment of journalists pursuing their everyday work.

Generally, presidents both liberal and conservative have understood that the press is a self-correcting defender of our liberties. In seeking truth and justice, media could fall on any given day in the good graces of an administration or on its unfavorable list – based entirely on the issue. Media was not – should not – ever be considered a consistent ally of a government. Press is a consistent ally of the public and the communities it serves, above all else, and universally.

Trump and some of his defenders insist he does not mean to tar all of us in the news media. At times the president makes this obvious. He has praised news outlets and journalists who praise him or with whom he agrees. But time after time in tweets and at political rallies, he points to the press – all of us – and lashes out. Mr. President, “real” news is not just that with which you agree and critical news is not by definition “fake news.”

Mr. President, it’s time for the “fake news” talk to end. It does not serve the American people. Go ahead and challenge news outlets that play fast and loose with ethical standards; accurately point out anything unfair, dishonest or politically motivated.

Just don’t paint an image with such broad strokes. The “fake news” talk does not advantage the nation and should be tossed on the junk heap of American history.

COMMENTS