Yes, the press is the en­emy — of se­crecy

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

This edi­to­rial ap­peared in The Charlotte Ob­ser ver

How should the press re­spond to U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s claim “fake news me­dia” are “the en­emy of the Amer­i­can peo­ple”? By do­ing its job — well.

Trump’s com­ments have pushed the dis­cus­sion about the im­por­tance of the press in our democ­racy into over­drive. And fu­elled an al­ready sim­mer­ing fire over what to do with the White House Cor­re­spon­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion Dinner, an event de­signed as a cel­e­bra­tion of a free, in­de­pen­dent press, but of­ten crit­i­cized for cre­at­ing the ap­pear­ance of a too-cozy re­la­tion­ship with top celebri­ties and the White House.

There’s a rea­son an in­de­pen­dent press is pro­tected by the U.S. First Amend­ment. It’s not be­cause the press is or ever has been pop­u­lar. The press reaches into dark places and ex­poses the ugly that many don’t want to grap­ple with. It holds to ac­count the most pow­er­ful, serv­ing as a bul­wark against the worst in­stincts and ex­cesses of those in power. Jour­nal­ism, at its best, is not a pop­u­lar­ity con­test. That’s why Trump knew he picked a tar­get-rich en­vi­ron­ment to dis­tract from the many prob­lems his new ad­min­is­tra­tion faces. The me­dia aren’t per­fect. No in­sti­tu­tion is. Trust in the me­dia fell to an all-time low last year, ac­cord­ing to Gallup. Only 32 per cent of Amer­i­cans have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the in­sti­tu­tion. Part of that is the re­sult of a hy­per­par­ti­san en­vi­ron­ment in which many Amer­i­cans trust only sources that say what they al­ready want to be­lieve. Part of it is be­cause the press has got­ten things wrong and ig­nored or soft-ped­alled sto­ries that war­ranted more at­ten­tion.

That’s all the more rea­son to fo­cus less on Trump’s at­tacks on the press and more on try­ing to an­swer ques­tions about Rus­sia’s abil­ity to reach into our democ­racy, about what could hap­pen to strug­gling peo­ple re­ly­ing upon a health care law that might be re­pealed, about the fate of crim­i­nal jus­tice, ed­u­ca­tion and im­mi­gra­tion re­form. Ex­plor­ing the ef­fects of poli­cies and per­son­al­i­ties is a bet­ter use of the me­dia’s time and pre­cious re­sources than an­swer­ing ev­ery pot­shot from the pres­i­dent.

Times like th­ese call for se­ri­ous, sober re­port­ing and anal­y­sis. That’s the mis­sion. That’s the goal. Any­thing less would be a dere­lic­tion of duty.

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