Saturday, July 20, 2019 Elyria 82°


The media are not the enemy (Editorial)

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A free and independent press is vital to American democracy.

Our Founding Fathers considered it so important that they protected it in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Yet President Donald Trump has kept up an all-out assault on the media that threatens to undermine democracy itself.

Today, we stand with newspaper editorial boards across the country to explain and defend our constitutionally protected role as an independent voice in the course of human events.

There are sure to be those who see today’s coordinated response to Trump’s attacks as proof that the media are a monolithic entity hell-bent on taking down the president. They will argue that it is a conspiracy, collusion, an extension of the mythical “Deep State.”

It is none of those things. The media exist in a broad and diverse landscape with widely varying styles and viewpoints. What we have in common is a deep and abiding respect for freedom of speech, freedom of the press and our responsibility to report the news fairly and accurately.

The accusations against our motives, however untrue, are something we are unwilling to bear in silence because Trump’s assault on one of the bedrock principles of this country must be answered.

We are joined together in common cause only because Trump has brought us to this point with his dangerous rhetoric attacking the media as an “enemy of the American people” and claiming that “what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

"What ever happened to the free press?" Trump asked at a rally in Pennsylvania this month. "What ever happened to honest reporting? They don't report it. They only make up stories."

That is not how journalists operate. Reporters ask questions, they sift through public records, they sit through court hearings, news conferences and public meetings. They ask more questions.

Journalists grill cops and criminals, prosecutors and defense attorneys, politicians and activists. We talk to heroes and victims, kids and store clerks, medical professionals and teachers.

Here in Lorain County, The Chronicle-Telegram’s reporters keep watch on school boards, police officers, judges, government workers, politicians and others who hold the public trust. We strive to hold them accountable to the citizens they serve. Such work is replicated in newsrooms nationwide on a daily basis.

If we make a mistake, as everyone sometimes does, we admit it and correct it.

Each media organization that participated had to decide for itself whether to join in this collective defense, as The Chronicle did before committing to the project Friday. It is rare, if not unique, for so many editorial voices to commit themselves to a single editorial cause.

We decided to participate not out of any animus against Trump, although we certainly have been harsh critics of his behavior and administration in our editorials, but out of a sense of duty to our readers. Our mission is to serve the public good, in part by using the freedom granted us under the First Amendment to hold the powerful accountable.

Trump has tried to erode the public’s faith in the media and its mission to serve his own ends.

When Trump complains about “fake news,” he is not talking about the hoaxes crafted in Russian troll farms. He is attacking information that he doesn’t like. He is complaining about stories that, although true, make him or his allies look bad.

If Trump doesn’t like the coverage he’s receiving, he should focus on his campaign promise to “drain the swamp.” Instead, he has looked the other way as scandals festered and complained when someone noticed.

His rhetoric seems to be working, at least among Republicans.

On Tuesday, Quinnipiac University released a poll showing that 26 percent of respondents viewed the news media as “the enemy of the people.” The poll showed that 51 percent of Republicans, 5 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of independents agreed with that view.

Conversely, 65 percent said they saw the news media as “an important part of democracy.” That included 36 percent of Republicans, 91 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents.

It is deeply concerning to us that so many people viewed our work of providing information to the public as somehow a threat to America. Information, facts and data should not be considered partisan.

We are not the enemy of the people. We are not even Trump’s enemies.

Despite that, Trump will no doubt keep up his vilification of the media. He is, of course, free to say whatever he wants.

We can take it, but we don’t have to stay silent in the face of repeated attacks on the free press.

Were we to do so, we would be failing our readers, ourselves and our country.

If freedom of the press dies, so too does democracy.

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