PRESS EDITORIAL: Why the press is protected by the Constitution

“Which comes closer to your point of view: the news media is the enemy of the people, or the news media is an important part of democracy?”

That question was asked in a Quinnipiac University poll last week. Twenty-six percent of the people who responded chose “enemy of the people.”

The poll was conducted in the United States of America. That should be obvious—Quinnipiac is located in Connecticut and is highly regarded for its surveys of American public opinion—but we mention it because it is so hard to make sense of the finding that a quarter of the citizens of the world’s preeminent democracy regard the free press as their enemy.

How can that make sense when the democracy’s Constitution, the hallowed document revered as history’s quintessential declaration of the rights of the people under a democratic government, guarantees freedom of the press in some of its very first words?

How can that make sense when the universal marker of totalitarian governments is the absence of a free press? Does it not say something about the importance of a free press to a free people that no dictatorship in the world allows it to exist?

“Enemy of the people” is President Donald Trump’s term for the press, imprinted on the political lexicon by his frequent Twitter posts and his repeated use of the words at political rallies, often with the effect of inciting some of his followers to ridicule, curse at, threaten and, in a few instances, physically assault journalists covering the event.

Trump’s attacks on the press have exceeded in ferocity and effect even those of Richard Nixon, who has heretofore resided in history as the most venomous press hater of any American president.

The specter of Nixon is relevant to Trump’s enemy-of-the-people crusade, for his name lives on in the annals of press freedom not only in infamy, but also as the subject of one of the finest hours of American journalism. The attempt by Nixon and his minions in the Watergate conspiracy to subvert the government would not have been exposed and defeated without the relentless pursuit of the truth by newspaper journalists free to do their work.

Those who think of the press as the enemy of the people presumably would like to get rid of the enemy, which prompts the question: How would they expect to be informed about their government without the news media? Perhaps by Donald Trump?

The Washington Post has charged an experienced government reporter and a supporting staff with the full-time mission of fact-checking every claim made by Donald Trump since he took office as president. The database that has resulted from their work shows that as of Aug. 1, 2018, Trump has made 4,229 false or misleading claims. For this public service, the Post has earned a place near the top of the list of enemies of the people.

We write this editorial as part of the news media, and we admit that we are at a loss to understand the notion of that news media as an enemy of the people. We see our colleagues at Ozaukee Press working with dedication and skill to inform readers about life in their communities and, through careful reporting, the actions of their government. It is impossible to imagine them as enemies of the people.

We practice our journalism in the generally friendly-to-the-local-newspaper environment of small towns, but we feel a bond with fellow journalists who report on national affairs and recognize their determination to provide information to their readers, listeners and viewers as fairly and accurately as they can as the same that motivates us.

As journalists, we cringe when mistakes are made by the news media—instances of careless reporting, failures to provide context and balance and, as perpetrated by some internet operations that claim news media status, intentionally false reporting. But we take pride in the news organizations that resolutely honor the ethic to get the story right and to correct it when they don’t.

We shudder at the thought that some Americans would willingly forfeit the necessary service to democracy of a free and vigorous press

We put our faith in the three-fourths of American citizens who know the press is not the enemy of the people.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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