Free Press Imperiled
Speaking Truth to Power Just Got Harder
Like many, I am emerging from the shock of the presidential election. The wearisome reality show that was the 2016 Campaign has seamlessly transitioned into President Trump Season 1.
Clearly, there will be no relief from the nonstop feed of TV spectacles showcasing the Great Leader and his entourage. Many dissenting Republicans are closing rank and warming to a place in the Trump pantheon. Also, what seems apparent, there will be no cessation of hostilities as our new thin–skinned president exacts his payback on the individuals and institutions that called foul on his many character issues, false statements, and ideological inconsistencies. So far, many major daily newspapers do not seem inclined to kiss the ring, and for this are likely to suffer a withering snubbing. The Fourth Estate may be the first bulwark of our free republic to come under siege.
Ben Franklin would not approve. He owned and published several newspapers at the time of the American Revolution. A vigorous and bold press gave flight to the ideas of the new country and was written into its founding documents as the watchdog of the people. Its specific protection under the Constitution was likely proposed by Franklin. Any threat to the freedom of our press raises serious red flags. Now we have the likes of Sean Hannity proposing a ban of the Washington Post and the New York Times from the White House Press Corps. We have a right-wing news executive embedded in the White House as a shadowy chief of staff and propaganda minister. We have citizens flipping off journalists as if the messengers had invented the bad news. Punitive lawsuits have been threatened from the president-elect himself. America has always been a place where it is reasonably safe to be a journalist. Public opinion has never tolerated otherwise, but if we have learned anything this year, it must be that we should take nothing for granted.
The term “news media” does not really cover the broad landscape of public information in the 21st century. Print is about ideas and analysis. Some TV fulfills this high calling on its better days, but much of the 24-hour news feed doesn’t seem to mind superficial spectacle where the lurid and shallow may provide better ratings over the less thrilling and more substantial. Media and Press are really two different entities. The press has not always been above the cheap temptations to employ the lurid to sell papers. Still, the deepest reflection on ideas of our time mostly occurs in print. Only a free press in plain view can most effectively speak truth to power.
Those of us who are not happy about the election are pondering our role in standing effectively in peaceful opposition to a new administration that has yet to earn our trust. I would propose that the first step is to rally around the large daily newspapers in their time of need. They are the curators of the news, and their departments sponsor in-depth coverage that will be available no where else if they disappear.
The Internet has been hard on the traditional press. The Trump administration sees an obvious weakness that it intends to exploit; it is likely to try to undermine these independent voices. Any paper that has an unencumbered editorial staff should be supported. I don’t need to hear only what I agree with, and I won’t cancel my subscription when I read something I don’t like. I just want access to writers who do their homework, have verifiable facts to present, and are active and publicly accountable in an ongoing public dialog. In an age when news of questionable authenticity appears anonymously from the murk of the Internet, these so-called dinosaurs of a “bygone obsolete information system” become more necessary then ever. We must not take our independent public press for granted. America has a brave community of dedicated journalist professionals who live by the ideals of a government accountable to the people. It may get harder for them in the near future. We need their public discourse in plain view now more then ever.
I subscribe to the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. I read them digitally during the week and take a physical newspaper from them on Sunday. I have recently subscribed to the Washington Post and the New Yorker. I cannot read everything, but steady long-term support of these organizations is a good place to spend some of your money-where-your-mouth-is. Any citizen who feels helpless in this time of transition might try subscribing to as many traditional news dailies as they can afford. We show our support for the watchdogs by feeding and respecting them. Do it for the future of the country. Do it for Ben Franklin.