The en­e­mies list

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - KATH­LEEN PARKER kath­leen­parker@wash­

To sum up Pres­i­dent Trump’s first month in of­fice, he has ex­ceeded every­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions. To those who op­posed him, he’s worse than ex­pected. To those who sup­ported him, he’s done ex­actly what he said he would do and more. And every­one hates the me­dia. Re­gard­ing the ob­ser­va­tion that the me­dia took Trump lit­er­ally but not se­ri­ously, it would ap­pear that we didn’t take him lit­er­ally enough.

It bears say­ing, I sup­pose, that I’m not a Trump hater, as my ev­ervig­i­lant crit­ics in­sist. I’d like to get on with things — but the right things, in the right ways. Of course, I want the pres­i­dent of the United States to be suc­cess­ful, but cor­rectly. That is, con­sti­tu­tion­ally, cau­tiously and con­sid­er­ately. Over­all, my hopes and goals for the na­tion are more or less the same as any other well-ad­justed Amer­i­can’s, even if we may dif­fer in the how.

Based on my mail­bag, which is as good a barom­e­ter as any of how peo­ple are think­ing, the great­est ob­sta­cle be­fore us isn’t this pres­i­dent or that pol­icy but our dis­trust of each other, es­pe­cially the pub­lic’s to­ward the me­dia. We scrib­blers have never been the most pop­u­lar peo­ple on the block. On my first day of work, my ed­i­tor told me, “If you want friends, you’re in the wrong busi­ness.” I’ve ac­cepted that, but I can’t ac­cept the per­cep­tion — and the pres­i­dent’s mantra — that jour­nal­ists are the enemy of the peo­ple. (En­e­mies of the peo­ple are much, much richer.)

For the record, I’m a paid opin­ion writer, so to those who write ac­cus­ing me of be­ing bi­ased and opin­ion­ated, I say, stay strong. To the rest, set­ting aside the death threats and batches of truly re­volt­ing in­sult, I’m read­ing and tak­ing it all in.

The over­ar­ch­ing theme is that no mat­ter what Trump does, he’ll never get a fair shake from me and my ilk. (Other let­ter writ­ers, who will be re­ceiv­ing Christ­mas gifts this year, say thank you.) The pres­i­dent and his staff just need a lit­tle time to ad­just, these read­ers im­plore. Give the man a break! He has a steep learn­ing curve, af­ter all. True, but this is pre­cisely the prob­lem for many vet­eran jour­nal­ists, whose ca­reers con­sti­tute the equiv­a­lent of sev­eral ad­vanced de­grees in pub­lic pol­icy and gov­ern­ment along with, cu­mu­la­tively, sev­eral cen­turies of White House ex­pe­ri­ence.

Me and my ilks, she wrote in a pur­posely un­gram­mat­i­cal way, get set in our ways, too, and have ex­pec­ta­tions of a cer­tain level of knowl­edge, deco­rum and pro­to­col. The Trump White House is over­run with amateurs and ide­o­logues who are run­ning the coun­try like they’ve been up all night on bath salts.

It doesn’t seem to bother Trump’s sup­port­ers that he has hit a few snags — court rul­ings halt­ing his travel re­stric­tions; the dis­missal or with­drawal of a top of­fi­cial here and there. Or that there seems to be an ir­reg­u­lar re­la­tion­ship be­tween Trump’s and Vladimir Putin’s “peo­ple.”

Maybe there was noth­ing much to the chats be­tween short-lived na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn and Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador. Maybe there was no col­lu­sion be­tween Trump cam­paign aides dur­ing mul­ti­ple com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Rus­sian op­er­a­tives dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion.

But given (1) Trump’s so­lic­i­tous­ness to­ward Putin, (2) the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s will­ing­ness to de­claim moral equiv­a­lence be­tween Rus­sia and the United States, com­bined with (3) Trump’s cam­paign threat to re­think U.S. in­volve­ment with NATO — wouldn’t the me­dia be derelict in their duty if they did not re­lent­lessly scru­ti­nize these is­sues and events?

There’s noth­ing “fake” about these re­ports. And al­though the me­dia can be ac­cused of vig­or­ously pur­su­ing such sto­ries, even at the risk of ap­pear­ing “neg­a­tive,” isn’t this their job? Re­sis­tant as I am to the cheap com­par­i­son, can you imag­ine the Repub­li­can re­ac­tion if this same set of facts emerged dur­ing the first month of a Hil­lary Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion — es­pe­cially if Trump had won 3 mil­lion more votes?

If some­times the me­dia are wrong, pro­fes­sional mech­a­nisms are in place for cor­rec­tion. Peo­ple can have faith in this real fact. Not so a White House that doesn’t ap­pear to be­lieve in ac­knowl­edg­ing mis­takes, much less cor­rect­ing them. The dif­fer­ence be­tween these two is the dif­fer­ence be­tween re­li­able sources and pro­pa­ganda.

There’s room for im­prove­ment, and we in the me­dia bear the bur­den of win­ning back reader trust. But those who would give Trump the ben­e­fit of the doubt — no mat­ter what — should be will­ing at least to give re­spon­si­ble, proven jour­nal­ists an open-minded read­ing and a fair hear­ing.

Re­mem­ber, the en­e­mies of free­dom al­ways si­lence the re­porters first.

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