The Amer­i­can way

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Cokie and Steve Roberts Columnists Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by email at steve­cokie@gmail.com.

Pro­test­ers have ev­ery right to wave signs pro­claim­ing that Don­ald Trump is “Not My Pres­i­dent” (al­though their cred­i­bil­ity is com­pro­mised if they didn’t vote). But they are wrong on their facts. Trump is their pres­i­dent — our pres­i­dent — the only pres­i­dent we’ll have for the next four years.

Those pro­test­ers have many rea­sons to feel ag­grieved. Trump cal­lously ex­ploited ugly strains of racism, sex­ism and xeno­pho­bia dur­ing his cam­paign. FBI di­rec­tor James Comey broke Jus­tice De­part­ment rules by in­ter­ven­ing in the cam­paign’s clos­ing days. For the sec­ond time in five elec­tions, a Demo­crat won the pop­u­lar vote but lost the Elec­toral Col­lege.

Still, Trump won fairly. The out­come must be ac­cepted and re­spected. That’s the Amer­i­can Way.

But the Amer­i­can Way must mean some­thing else as well. It must mean that a re­lent­less and in­de­pen­dent press holds the new pres­i­dent ac­count­able from day one. No back­ing down. No buck­ling un­der.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, news or­ga­ni­za­tions re­al­ized that Can­di­date Trump had changed the rules, ly­ing re­peat­edly and re­fus­ing to cor­rect his state­ments or apol­o­gize for them. They be­came more ag­gres­sive in con­fronting his fab­ri­ca­tions, and that ag­gres­sive­ness has to intensify in their cov­er­age of Pres­i­dent Trump.

The Amer­i­can Way also places de­mands on a pres­i­dent. If those pro­test­ers are ob­li­gated to re­spect the elec­tion, he is ob­li­gated to re­spect the Con­sti­tu­tion, in­clud­ing the part about a free press, and here Trump has a dis­mal record.

He re­peat­edly in­sults re­porters as “scum,” “clowns” and “dum­mies.” (He called Cokie “kooky” on Twit­ter.) He’s barred re­porters he doesn’t like from his cam­paign events and threat­ened to loosen li­bel laws. Re­cently, he’s evaded re­porters as­signed to cover him.

“If Mr. Trump keeps up the pos­ture he dis­played dur­ing the cam­paign — all-out war foot­ing — the fu­ture will hold some very grim days, not just for news re­porters but also for the Amer­i­can con­sti­tu­tional sys­tem that re­lies on a free and strong press,” writes New York Times me­dia critic Jim Ruten­berg.

Trump’s anti-press mis­siles are only part of his as­sault arse­nal. He boasts of more than 28 mil­lion fol­low­ers on Face­book, Twit­ter and In­sta­gram, and in ef­fect he’s cre­ated the TBN, the Trump Broad­cast­ing Net­work, which he uses adroitly to com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with his fol­low­ers and evade the fil­ter of jour­nal­is­tic scru­tiny.

In his re­veal­ing in­ter­view with Les­ley Stahl on “60 Min­utes,” he called so­cial me­dia “a great form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion” and added, “I’m not say­ing I love it, but it does get the word out.” When re­porters “give me a bad story or ... an in­ac­cu­rate story,” so­cial me­dia pro­vides “a method of fight­ing back.” The TBN, he con­cluded, “helped me win all these races where they’re spend­ing much more money than I spent.”

The main­stream me­dia made many mis­takes in the last cam­paign. In a des­per­ate pur­suit of rat­ings and rev­enue, they gave Trump far too much free cov­er­age dur­ing the pri­maries. In the fall, they re­lied too heav­ily on polling and not enough on street-level re­port­ing that might have sensed the pro-Trump surge that sur­prised just about ev­ery­body on elec­tion night.

As New York Times pub­lic ed­i­tor Liz Spayd wrote: “I hope its ed­i­tors will think hard about the half of Amer­ica the pa­per too sel­dom cov­ers.”

But those mis­takes don’t di­min­ish the crit­i­cal im­por­tance of the me­dia’s role as the Trump Era dawns. It has to fight doggedly against the mis­guided no­tion that we are in a “post-truth era,” where facts don’t mat­ter, and all jour­nal­ism is about at­ti­tude and opin­ion.

“If you have a so­ci­ety where peo­ple can’t agree on ba­sic facts, how do you have a func­tion­ing democ­racy?” asks Marty Baron, the ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Good ques­tion. The an­swer is you can­not. And the only in­sti­tu­tion that can pro­vide those “ba­sic facts” is a free, fierce, fear­less press. That’s the Amer­i­can Way.

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