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US newspapers hit back at Trump, defend free press

Updated August 17, 2018

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Cambridge (Massachusetts): A customer walks past the front page of The Boston Globe newspaper referencing their editorial defence of press freedom.—Reuters
Cambridge (Massachusetts): A customer walks past the front page of The Boston Globe newspaper referencing their editorial defence of press freedom.—Reuters

WASHINGTON: US newspapers big and small hit back on Thursday at Donald Trump’s relentless attacks on the news media with a coordinated campaign of editorials, triggering a fresh tirade from the president on Twitter.

Leading the charge was The Boston Globe, which had called for the drive highlighting the importance of a free press, accompanied by the hashtag #EnemyOfNone.

More than 300 newspapers around the country joined the effort.

“Today in the United States we have a president who has created a mantra that members of the media who do not blatantly support the policies of the current US administration are the ‘enemy of the people’,” the Globe editorial said.

Over 300 publications join the bid to counter president’s attempt to call reports critical of him as fake news

“This is one of the many lies that have been thrown out by this president, much like an old-time charlatan threw out ‘magic’ dust or water on a hopeful crowd,” it added in a piece entitled “Journalists are not the Enemy”. The effort comes amid Trump’s persistent claims that mainstream media outlets that publish articles critical of him are churning out “fake news”.

The New York Times, a frequ­ent target of Trump’s criticism, ran a seven-paragraph editorial under a giant headline with all capital letters that read “A FREE PRESS NEEDS YOU.”

“Insisting that truths you don’t like are ‘fake news’ is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. And calling journalists the ‘enemy of the people’ is dangerous, period,” the Times wrote.

Trump fired back on Twitter by repeating his contention that the “fake” news media is “the opp­osition party” and claiming The Boston Globe was “in collusion” against him with other media. “There is nothing that I would want more for our Country than true FREEDOM OF THE PRESS,” he tweeted.

“The fact is that the Press is FREE to write and say anything it wants, but much of what it says is FAKE NEWS, pushing a political agenda or just plain trying to hurt people.” Other newspapers joining the campaign said Trump’s attacks diminish the importance of journalists in their communities.

“For more than two centuries — since the birth of our nation— the press has served as a check on power, informing the American people about corruption and greed, triumphs and tragedies, grave mistakes and misdeeds and even ineptitude and dysfunction,” wrote the Albuquerque Journal in New Mexico. Iowa’s Des Moines Register said, “The true enemies of the people — and democracy — are those who try to suffocate truth by vilifying and demonising the messenger”.

Threat to role of media

Free press advocates argue that Trump’s attacks threaten the role of the news media as a check against abuse of power in government and imperil the constitutional First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press.

“I don’t think the press can just sit back and take it, they need to make their case when the most powerful man in the world tries to undercut the First Amendment,” said Ken Paulson, a former editor-in-chief of USA Today who heads the Newseum’s First Amendment Centre and is dean of communications at Middle Tennessee State University.

But Paulson questioned whether editorials would be effective.

“The people who read editorials don’t need to be convinced,” he said. “They are not the ones trying to shout you down at presidential rallies.” The campaign also faces the potential for galvanising supporters of the president around the notion that the media is out to get him.

The San Francisco Chronicle said it would not join the effort because “it plays into Trump’s narrative that the media are aligned against him”. But the newspaper said it would “continue to speak out against this president’s war on the free press”, doing it “in our own way, on our own timetable”.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2018