In Defense of the News Media … and Democracy

When Karl Rove is telling you to tone things down, you’ve probably gone too far.

According to the Washington Post, Rove told a gathering in New York City last weekend that, in regards to President Trump’s non-stop attacks on the news media, “I think the president would be well-advised to tone down the rhetoric.”

Rove’s point was that the continued diatribes were likely to turn off moderate Republican-leaning voters – people the Republicans will need in November if they’re to hold on to both houses of Congress.

Trump has been critical of the news media for the past couple of years, but as various investigations into potential wrongdoing by his friends and family have intensified, his attacks have gotten more vehement. Trump has gone so far as to say that reporters are enemies of the people.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, has refused to say that the news media is NOT the enemy of the American people. Instead, she’s said that the media is bringing the attacks on itself.

Even worse, a new poll shows that 43 percent of Republicans surveyed want to give Trump the power to close down news outlets “engaged in bad behavior.” That same poll showed that 12 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of independents also think that’s ok.

No. Just, no. That’s not how a free country works.

The vitriol against reporters who are doing their job – reporting on presidential rallies, among other things – is growing more pointed and threatening by the day.

Members of the news media are – rightfully – increasingly concerned for their safety. Twitter is full of people predicting that it won’t be long before a reporter is killed at or near a Trump rally. The national broadcast networks are hiring bodyguards to protect their reporters at Trump rallies because of numerous threats against the reporters.

This turn of events is wrong. And it is shameful.

Many people point to freedom of religion or the right to bear arms as the bedrock of the U.S. Constitution, but our country was built on freedom of the press. Our founding fathers placed great value on the ability of people to criticize government.

We need news reporters to ensure that our government is following the Constitution – and we need those reporters not just at the national level. We need them at the state level. We need them at the local level.

As a former public information officer for a state agency, I dealt with reporters every day. Mostly, they were fair. Sometimes, they weren’t. They asked a lot of questions, some of those questions were quite uncomfortable (at least, the answers were uncomfortable).

But I knew that in the long run, they were going to help my agency do a better job by making sure that we respected the law and did the right thing for the citizens of Texas.

Just as criminal defense lawyers ensure that defendants receive a fair trial, reporters ensure that our elected representatives, government employees, business owners and others do the right thing. Reporters are not the enemies of the people. They are among the protectors.

As the Washington Post so eloquently points out on their masthead, democracy dies in darkness. For a healthy, vibrant democracy, we need reporters to bring the light, even when we may not agree with them.

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