A Stain on America

In the bucolic days of December 2017, before media outlets had to hire armed security guards to protect their reporters from the riffraff that makes up a presidential pep rally nowadays, President Donald J. Trump offered one of his more telling critiques of the free press.

Of course he tweeted it, because outside of his Nuremberg-esque gatherings of the MAGA faithful he doesn’t communicate with the American people any other way.

It was a Sunday, always his best Twitter day to my mind. The insults are more childish, the madness more manic than his Monday-through-Saturday barbs. And while he usually does his best work in the morning – I always imagine him tweeting from his golden toilet, because who wouldn’t – this particular gem came in the afternoon. And I don’t imagine he thought it up at church (sorry evangelicals).

“Very little discussion of all the purposely false and defamatory stories put out this week by the Fake News Media,” he tweeted, little fingers flying. “They are out of control – correct reporting means nothing to them. Major lies written, then forced to be withdrawn after they are exposed…”

And then, to wrap: “A stain on America.”

To be fair, two outlets had to clarify or correct two stories that were unnecessarily unflattering to the president. And he demanded – and received – an apology from The Washington Post over a rally photo that ran contrary to his obsession with attendance figures.

But a stain on America?

If that were the only time the president has ever had an unkind thing to say about the Fourth Estate, most journalists would move on to worry about other more pressing concerns like ever-shrinking newsrooms or their corporate overlords. But one can only be called an “enemy of the people” by the leader of the free world so many times – something his press “liaison” refuses to walk back – before enough is enough.

That’s why on Thursday, Courthouse News joins the Boston Globe and hundreds of other news organizations across the nation to remind the president and all Americans that a free press was so precious to our Founding Fathers, they enshrined it in the Bill of Rights. Amendment number 1, in fact:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The most cherished and important rights of a free people, in an elegant nutshell – and the law of the land. Regardless of politics or creed or color or any of the many other things used as wedges to divide us in these dark and troubled times, these belong to us.

I get it. It must be tiresome for him to turn on the television or open his Twitter feed every day and see his past and present foibles and fumbles hashed and diced and laid bare. Very few of us will ever experience that, mainly because very few of us will ever be president.

But he is. And along with having a thick skin and acting presidential and playing nicely in the world sandbox, a president is expected to at least pretend to respect the free press this nation is built on. No; he’s expected to defend it. It’s one of only two items in his constitutional job description, along with faithfully executing the office of president of the United States (acting presidential and playing nicely in the world sandbox).

And while it no doubt feels unpleasant when the press pokes and prods in its quest to find out what really happened during the 2016 election, or into why a porn star was paid six figures to keep her mouth shut, or how much money the president’s making on foreign leaders’ visits to his properties or how much time he spends golfing, we’re just doing our jobs. We’re trying to find the truth.

And if that truth happens to go your way, Mr. President, we’ll report it. Every single time. It’s a promise.

Many years ago, another man who spent some time on the world stage also railed against the press in a book called “Mein Kampf.” In it, he laid the blame for all of his country’s problems at the feet of the free press.

“It is the press, above all, which wages a positively fanatical and slanderous struggle, tearing down everything which can be regarded as a support of national independence, cultural elevation and the economic independence of the nation,” he wrote.

Or in the parlance of today: “Fake, fake disgusting news.”

It’s a road none of us should want to walk again.

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“Freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.” – George Orwell

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