EDITORIAL: Presidential demonizing obscures value of media

The York Dispatch
President Donald Trump speaks during a rally, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018, in Lewis Center, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

It turns out we were ahead of the curve when we pointed out earlier this month the increasingly dangerous tone of President Donald Trump's relentless attacks on the media. 

Today, news organizations across the nation are speaking out with one voice against this unprecedented presidential drumbeat of inaccurate, unfair and abusive rhetoric. We proudly join them. Not out of a sense of solidarity, though there is that, but out of a sense of what is right.

And what the president has been spewing is not right — neither factually nor morally.

It is not uncommon for national leaders to develop adversarial relationships with the media. After all, a free press demands transparency, accountability and honesty. It pursues complex issues and asks difficult questions. It pulls back the curtain on patently false and misleading claims. And it spells out the true consequences of the actions, priorities and agendas of elected officials.

Life would be far easier for those in power were it not for the dogged persistence and fearless coverage of professional journalists at all levels of government.

So those journalists are not unaccustomed to criticism — sometimes deserved, to be sure, but more often ill-placed, unjust and overblown.

Still, news-gatherers have seldom faced the type of blatant hostility regularly foisted upon them by President Trump: “Fake.” “Disgusting” “Enemy of the American people.”

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President Richard Nixon had his enemies list. President John Adams signed into law the Sedition Acts. Neither routinely penned in reporters at public events, surrounded them with hostile partisans, then egged on that crowd with media-baiting taunts and hostility.

No American president has ever parroted the worst tyrants in history by tarring the Fourth Estate as the enemy of the people.

The free press, it should go without saying, is the enemy only of lies, misdeeds and corruption. It is the enemy of legal and ethical transgressions in public office. It is the enemy of financial misdeeds, governmental mistruths and public misconduct.

It is of the people. Unlike many of those it covers, the rank-and-file press corps neither descends from, attains to, nor dwells in privilege.

It stands by the people. The press has long been the representative of everyday citizens — from the small-town beat reporter covering the school board meeting to the war correspondents explaining geopolitical confrontations.

It is for the people. Much of what is known about governmental affairs, public spending, state and national lawmaking, political machinations, financial markets, business dealings and a host of other areas of public import and interest — from town hall to Capitol Hill — comes from the media.

So it is all but incomprehensible that a recent poll by the Ipsos marketing firm found that 43 percent of Republicans believe “the president should have the power to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.”

There are countries where this happens. They look nothing like America.

This nation’s Founders believed so strongly in an unfettered press that its rights are protected under the First Amendment. Seldom, it seems, have those protections been as necessary as they are today.

It is and always has been the role of the media to report uncomfortable truths. That doesn’t make it fake. It doesn’t make it disgusting. And it certainly doesn’t make it the enemy of the people.

In fact, just the opposite.