Monday, February 20, 2017

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: Bless, Keep and Protect Our Free Press

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2017 at 12:30 PM

Since the election, I have feared the mainstream press would collapse under the weight of Trump's endless onslaught. Instead, it has dug in its heels and held its ground. It could have normalized our aberrant new political order, accepting the presidential campaign as a variation on a standard political theme, treating Trump's continual lies and outrages as the growing pains of an eccentric newbie trying to learn how to be president, acting like his agenda fits neatly under the headline, "Elections have consequences." But it hasn't. From the New York Times, to the Washington Post, to papers in other major cities, to the Associated Press which supplies most of the national stories in the Star, to principled conservative writers who are horrified at what they're witnessing, journalists have striven to show the reading public how unusual, how outlandish our present situation really is. CNN, to my surprise, has responded to constant Trumpian attacks by stepping up its coverage of the White House, and MSNBC, especially in its evening shows, has zeroed in on the day's events and spotlighted why we need to remain concerned and vigilant. Even Fox has spoken occasional truth to power.

In much of the daily news and in many magazines, truth telling is trumping Trumpism. Facts are still facts, and diligent, whip-smart investigative journalists are digging to see what facts they can uncover beneath the facts we already know. It's not a perfect process. It's flawed, messy and many-headed. But that's what unfettered journalism is all about, and it's what authoritarian leaders hate and fear, and do everything they can to suppress.

Our free press could forfeit its effectiveness in a number ways, to our peril. Possibly the most dangerous is self censorship, where a reporter, a columnist or an editor decides an honest story is too dangerous to print because it may offend an advertiser or a community leader or a powerful politician. Another possibility is that a story based on poor sourcing or incorrect assumptions is printed, proven wrong and used as a bludgeon against the "lying press" and its "fake news." The offending news source may cower in the wake of its mistake (think of the fallout from Dan Rather's flawed 60 Minutes story on Bush's military record). Worse, other news agencies may watch the bludgeoning and grow overly cautious, backing away from an important story for fear it contains an unseen flaw and they will suffer similar humiliation and repudiation.  A third possibility, which Trump and his enablers push on a daily basis, is that factual stories will be ignored by a growing segment the public as Fake News, that they will agree with Trump's tweet calling the press an "enemy of the American people." The final worry is that somehow the government will find a way to censor the press outright, making it illegal to tell a truth the people in power don't want anyone to hear. If that happens, our democracy is doomed.

Whatever benevolent powers are out there watching over us, bless, keep and protect our free press so it helps us preserve and protect our rights and our freedom.

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