Yes, the press is the enemy — of secrecy
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to reach into our democracy, about what could happen to struggling people relying upon a health care law that might be repealed, about the fate of criminal justice, education and immigration reform.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.