In Praise of Freedom of the Press

In Praise of Freedom of the Press February 24, 2017

The_Press_ wikipediaThis afternoon the Trump Administration’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, barred a number of news organizations from attending an announced, off-air, press briefing at the White House.

The list of those banned has not been officially released, but is said to be rather lengthy. It includes CNN, the BBCthe New York Times, the LA Times, the New York Daily News, BuzzFeed, The Hill, Daily Mail, Politico, Huffington Post, and The Guardian.  Among these are eminent newspapers in the US and Great Britain, and the world-renowned BBC news.

The briefing, held in Spicer’s office, was by invitation only, and included a number of conservative new organizations like Breitbart and Fox News.

And I, for one, find this frightening, as it echoes the kind of information control practiced in dictatorships.

The good news is that two organizations who were invited in, Associated Press and Time Magazine, chose to boycott in support of those excluded. And a number of other organizations who did attend issued protests, including the Wall Street Journal.

The bad news is that both the right and the left have been attacking the press unceasingly, using the press as scapegoats in the country’s divisions, and insisting that critical reporting is unfair.

Trump has been attacking the press ever since the election, calling the press ‘fake news’ for pointing out his own lies and misrepresentations, and for keeping a list of his administration’s fear-mongering false statements, such as, so far, three terrorist acts within the US that never happened.

Liberals, though, disappointed by the election and unwilling to look at the issues Trump got right and the Democrats got wrong, have been loudly blaming the press for electing Trump through over-reporting his campaign. Some accuse the press of over-reporting on his presidency now. Others blame the press for over-reporting on the Clinton email issues, which many maintain were overblown.

Yet it is really hard to argue with what Trump got right, namely, that the world economy has wreaked great hardship on mid-western factory workers, many of whom live in decaying small cities that have become industrial ghost towns, or rural coal mining towns where unemployment rates are sky high.

Trump’s argument is simplistic, and his proposed solutions, none of which have details, are misleading. But he was unwavering in speaking about this true issue and the suffering within it, and he won himself a lot of support, enough to garner the Electoral College votes he needed.

Clinton, who did not address these issues directly, also failed to visit these rust belt states, or to express real understanding for the suffering endured there.

And the Press did its job!  The job of a free press is to report in full on the doings of the campaigns.  And that includes the antics, the smears, the exaggerations, the internal fighting, the bloopers, the mistakes and the lies.

Nothing a primary candidate does is rightly omitted, because it is the voters who have the right to decide what is stupid, what is inane, what is important, what warms their hearts, and what makes them laugh. It is not the right of the press to decide for us what is unimportant or beneath our notice.

And the press did expose Trump: his Billy Bush tape; his vanity; his braggadocio; his lack of facts.

In the aftermath, we can see that the press exposed in Hillary Clinton a lack of concern for industrial workers caught in a post-industrial age. And this unconcern cost her more than her emails.  Not that the Trump campaign did not smear her on the email issue.   But when was a US campaign ever conducted without smears?

And nothing a nominee does should be omitted from the reporting for the same reasons. The campaign that wins will be the campaign that catches the voters, not the campaign that was managed by the press. Campaigns need to be savvy and smart, mostly about the voters, but also about the press.

In a democracy, there has to be room for reporting from every point of view. My chief complaint with Fox News is that it does omit a huge amount of detail, Fox decides how it will massage the news to make Republicans look better. And Breitbart decides how to spin its alt-right news.

My own news choices are:  The Washington Post online; a number of New York Times reporters whom I follow online, like Nick Kristoff and Frank Bruni; the PBS News Hour; and CNN. More than ever before, I am tuning in to CNN, because they do cover it all, because Jake Tapper is an intelligent fellow, because John King leads a good noon discussion, because Dana Bash knows how to ask a sharp question, because Gloria Borger gets her facts straight, and because Don Lemon does not deserve to be attacked by the President for his gentle and straightforward style.

Perhaps this is a news silo. I think the disciples lived in one, hearing the news about Herod and Rome from Jesus’ perspective. And when Herod and Rome condemned Jesus, it was they, the smearers, who became known as Liars.

This country is too wise and these reporters and news organizations are too intelligent and too truthful to be silenced by a lying President like Trump.

Of all the battles that need to be won, the most important is the battle for a free press.

The press is not here to say what we want to hear. The press is here to report on the messy truth, as Van Jones calls it, and politics is always a quagmire.

The press is a form of gospel, which is not a book about the ‘good’ news, it is a book about the truth; and that is what the good news is.

We have never needed the press more than we do now, and the press has never needed our support, and our praise, more than they do today.
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Image: The Press. Wikipedia.

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