Editorial: Going beyond ‘fake news’ rhetoric

  • President Donald Trump walks to board Air Force One for a trip to Vietnam to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md. AP PHOTO/Evan Vucci

Published: 2/27/2019 8:36:30 AM

Donald Trump hurts our democracy every time he proclaims “fake news” about media outlets that report something he doesn’t like.

These attacks are especially cynical and hurtful because this is a president of the United States who swore to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Instead, he attacks the freedom of the press enshrined by the Founding Fathers in the First Amendment of that Constitution. They did so because they knew a free press is the friend of the people, not the enemy, as Donald Trump likes to say when he’s particularly annoyed by news organizations doing their job holding our government accountable.

Calling unflattering or critical reporting “fake news” and reporters “enemies of the people” is especially cynical and ironic coming from a man who believes the bald assertions of dictators and enemies like Russia’s Vladimir Putin over the analysis of American intelligence agencies tasked with protecting us.

Some day, psychoanalysts will feel free to explain in technical terms what we already know, that for Donald Trump, everything is personal, about his ego and insecurities. It’s probably why he is such a showboat — even as he wraps himself in a shroud of populism.

If Donald Trump really cared about America and about democracy here and abroad, he would champion all elements of our government by, of and for the people. He would honor the First Amendment rights to a free press. It’s sad that we have in our current president someone who isn’t big enough to take the political hits that come with the job. Democracy can be messy. Not everyone agrees and that is as it should be. Statesmanship is about bringing people together for the common good, not always about winning at everyone else’s expense. We should be able to disagree in pursuit of our nation’s common cause. You don’t get there by attacking the messenger of opposing or critical views and by ignoring inconvenient truths. This only stifles open discussion, the lifeblood of democracy. We should have access to all the information available about our politics and our politicians so that our decisions and those of our representatives in government are the most informed.

All the presidents in modern history had love-hate relationships with the press that covered them, but they also understood the important role a free press plays in our free society, and they accepted what they might have felt was negative press, while perhaps grumbling in private. We all want positive reviews. But we aren’t all sitting in the Oval Office, where the stakes are the highest and where openness and tolerance should be the greatest.

The Founding Fathers understood first hand the danger of living under a suppressive monarch and believed that a free press was essential to a government of the people.

New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, who has met with Donald Trump on several occasions, recently reminded his readers that all presidents from Thomas Jefferson to John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, publicly defended the press. Reagan said, “There is no more essential ingredient than a free, strong and independent press to our continued success,” Sulzberger noted.

We suspect it is asking too much of Donald Trump, who has trouble seeing past the shadow of his own self interest, but we wish he could at least stop calling the free press the enemy of the people in public and start sounding more like a real American president.

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