In response to recent attacks on the media by President Donald Trump, 350 publications nationwide responded with editorials defending freedom of the press; As Thomas Jefferson said: "Our liberty depends on freedom of the press. And that cannot be limited without being lost."
The refrains are as familiar as they are tiresome.
“Fake news.” “Biased reporting.”
But there’s a new melody now, a new thread added by President Trump.
“Enemy of the people.”
It’s an old phrase, one used all the way back in Roman times, as well as the Soviet Union against dissidents. A form even appeared in Nazi Germany, when Jewish people were called an “enemy of the state.”
“Enemy of the people.”
Journalists are used to being insulted. It comes with the job, with working to report accurately on the ceaseless torrent of happenings that comprise modern life. No one will be happy all the time with what a journalist or news outlet produces.
But being called an enemy — and not of a politician or cause, but of the whole people of a nation — that’s something else entirely.
It’s sinister. It’s destructive. And it must end now.
Our current president attacks hard. He’s proud of it. He holds nothing back, he says, in going against those who threaten him. That worked at one point as a New York real estate developer. But as leader of this country, the public looks at those words differently. For some, that speech becomes so much gospel, a guide to understanding the world.
So if the press is the “enemy of the people,” how do members of the public act?
Do they catcall and threaten journalists? It’s already happened.
Do they support closing news outlets that criticize the president? A recent poll suggests that many do.
Do they take up arms?
Where does this trail of incendiary rhetoric lead? The news media exists to inform. We come to work every day devoted to a simple cause: Telling you about the events and happenings in our communities. Our reporters, editors and photographers play a vital role in tracking city and state government.
Are your tax dollars being spent wisely? Are politicians acting honestly? Are neighborhoods and communities safe, and if not, why? These are the questions we work to answer each and every day. Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we don’t. But we always try.
The president uses the line because he doesn’t like being questioned or investigated. We get it. He doesn’t like negative coverage. We get it. But we have a job to do, and the president plays an outsized role in current events.
Not covering him aggressively would be a dereliction of duty.
We know that’s not always a popular stance, but it doesn’t make the press the enemy of anyone.
We’re not separate from the public. We are the public. We live and work and play in our communities. We go to restaurants and send our children to school. We drive the same roads, see the same doctors.
We’re not the enemy of the people. We are the people.