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EDITORIAL: Attacks on free press
Et tu, Papenfuse?
Tantrums and retaliation are Donald Trump’s go-to responses when the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee doesn’t get his way with the media.
His blacklist of unwelcome journalists and news-gathering organizations is famous, a wonder that seems to grow larger with every perceived slight or fact check.
It might be a salve to his notoriously thin skin, but Trump’s ban is unlikely to make a bit of difference in the long run.
Journalists will still seek the truth and report it, whether he likes it or even understands it.
What it does is show how little Trump cares about the First Amendment and free speech in America, an attitude apparently shared by Harrisburg’s Democratic Mayor Eric Papenfuse.
Earlier this month, at nearly the same time Trump was holding his breath, stomping his feet and banning The Washington Post from his campaign pep rallies, Papenfuse barred reporters with The Patriot-News and online counterpart PennLive from his weekly news briefings.
He also instructed his spokeswoman to ignore requests for information from the organizations that provide essential news to the citizens of Pennsylvania’s capital city.
In his official statement explaining the move, Papenfuse, a first-term mayor and co-owner of the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, said he believes “PennLive traffics in hate speech and cynicism.”
That’s a fairly broad and subjective criticism.
Perhaps the mayor finds it hateful the news organizations would dare report in early June that Midtown Scholars incorrectly calculated overtime wages for more than a dozen of its workers.
Or maybe Papenfuse considers it cynical for PennLive and The Patriot-News to publicize, as they did in May, the fact he and his wife own eight properties near two bars the city is trying to close.
We call those stories examples of good watchdog journalism, and we don’t think it’s a coincidence the mayor’s ban followed on their heels.
It’s understandable if Papenfuse doesn’t like those reports, but the fact is it comes with the territory when a private citizen holds or seeks to hold public office.
How he or she manages a business — whether a book store or Trump University — is a possible indicator of how that person runs or would run an administration.
And any time public figures could possibly benefit personally from official business, readers deserve to know about it. They will decide, based on the circumstances, if the elected officials are acting in their own best interests or the public’s.
It’s transparency, and it’s what good journalists and responsible public servants strive for every day.
In our experience, most politicians understand they don’t get to pick and choose the stories written about them.
Journalists don’t serve politicians; we serve the public by holding those politicians responsible.
Aside from the standard opportunity to comment on the record for any report, there are public platforms for officials when they have issues with coverage: letters to the editor, opinion pieces and news releases, for example.
There’s also a whole wide world of social media available to help share whatever information they like.
Unfortunately, the first instinct of politicians like Trump and Papenfuse is to “shoot the messengers” they disagree with.
Not that we think they’ll have much success.
In Papenfuse’s case, PennLive's director of content said the organization “will continue to investigate and report on stories in (Harrisburg), and we are not deterred by the mayor's information blackout."
But the fact he’s trying to impose one should alarm anyone who values a free press.