Despite an increasing array of attacks from the president of the U.S., the free press must perservere and continue to cover news with fairness and objectivity.
By Jubenal Aguilar
The press is not the enemy of the American people. Contrary to what President Donald Trump may think or feel, the press is vital to the existence of a safe and secure democracy.
In what was a disappointing, but not surprising, step in his escalating anti-press rhetoric, the president openly labeled a handful of the nation’s news organizations as public enemies Feb. 17. He did it via his favorite means of communication – Twitter.
According to The New York Times, the president’s original tweet read: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @CNN, @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people. SICK!”
The tweet was quickly deleted and replaced with a similar one in which the word “sick” was eliminated and two more television networks, ABC and CBS, were added.
Journalists around the country quickly reacted to the president’s attack in various opinion articles. Mike Wilson, editor of The Dallas Morning News, wrote a column describing the lives of these so-called enemies.
“[They] cover the justice system,” Wilson wrote. “They write about the teachers who educate your children and the doctors who treat your illnesses. Enemies of the people warn you about greedy garage door companies and lousy customer service departments. An enemy of the people reports on the property tax rate you pay.”
The president’s attack on the press is a dangerous move against the freedoms we all enjoy. It is unprecedented. “An attack on a free press by a sitting U.S. president is a slap in the face to democracy, our country’s founders and the American people,” the Society of Professional Journalists tweeted.
The president’s attack on the press undermines the credibility of news organizations and discredits them in the eye of the public. Distancing the public from the press is the first step in an attempt to obtain full control of information.
“If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free, and many times adversarial, press,” Senator John McCain said to Meet the Press on Feb. 19. “When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press.”
But a free press cannot be silenced so easily. Its resilience and dedication to exposing the truth is one that has transcended many administrations. This one will not be the exception.
It is the responsibility of the American press to serve as the fourth estate, a watchdog of the government on behalf of the people. The duty of the press is to report, without bias, on all of the dealings of those who hold office.
It’s not the press’ fault if nearly all of the actions of the president’s administration are unpopular with the public. It’s the job of journalists to accurately report on what happens, good or bad.
But the White House claims that the press fabricates stories because they are unfavorable to them.
“The media is willing to run with unnamed sources [and] apparently false leaked documents to create stories,” White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on Fox News Sunday, Feb. 19. “I mean, we deal with one after the next. I think that the media should stop with this unnamed source stuff.”
Real newsrooms don’t fabricate sources or data to create stories. That’s the job of satire sites such as The Onion or The Borowitz Report.
Real editors send their staffs out to the streets and to meetings to find the stories that keep us informed. They search through documents to find evidence others try to hide.
Unnamed sources are important to journalists because they provide information that may not be obtained otherwise. Journalists only use unnamed sources when it is necessary, and sources become unnamed only when they fear for their own wellbeing.
A trust-bond is formed between the source and the reporter – one any ethical journalist is willing to face the law for, before breaking. This anonymity encourages some to speak up.
Accuracy in newsgathering is of the utmost importance. Editors know a single error in reporting can undo years of hard work and call into question a newsroom’s credibility. Errors show a lack of ethics and professionalism.
But even with all of the information available, reporting may seem biased. After all, there are multiple sides to every story.
“Enemies of the people, being people, have biases,” Wilson wrote. “They try not to let the biases show in their work, but sometimes it happens.”
It’s the responsibility of the journalist to leave those biases behind and report impartially. To prevent bias, journalists rely on experts to help tell stories and explain topics. They use data and official documents to illustrate and prove their points. They get multiple sides of the story to offer fair coverage.
The real enemy of the American people is the rhetoric our president used to sway the election in his favor. The anger, the fear, the hate – it’s these dormant feelings among so many Americans that were awakened and now threaten to consume the country.
Add to that a disregard for truth, neglect of basic fact checking and reverence to chronic exaggeration the White House has shown since Jan. 20. This administration is one that fabricates reality – invents massacres, hallucinates terrorist attacks – without realizing the accessibility of information people have today.
It’s time the president learns to acknowledge both sides of every story. The president and his staff must know that the free press will not surrender. The free press will resist the oppression of this regime. In its search for truth, the press will take this chance, and the next, until it wins or all of the chances are spent.