The press isn't perfect, but it also isn't 'fake'
This publication, for the most part, tries to avoid delving into national news and especially national politics, as our mission is much more driven by a desire to provide truthful, thought-provoking, local content to the people who reside in the communities we cover – the same places we live in, love and want to keep an eye on.
However, we also find it important to stand with fellow publications, big and small, from all over the country that have chosen today to voice their concerns regarding a dangerous movement occurring in this country – one that unfortunately flows from the top executive level of our government. We are talking about President Donald Trump’s constant insistence that all media he doesn’t agree with simply be considered “fake news.”
This issue is polarizing, and it is not difficult to see why. From our standpoint, news organizations such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe frequently produce work that represents the pinnacle of our profession. However, to somebody who has bought the “fake news” explanation delivered by Trump, those same organizations are simply the best at faking news and spreading their biases.
Immediately, there is an irreconcilable cognitive dissonance between people simply because they do not agree with one another ideologically or politically. This is remarkably dangerous.
Regardless of whether you think Trump is a saving grace for the nation or he is helping steer us off a steep ravine, his attacks on the press can, in no way, shape or form, be considered healthy for our democracy. This country has thrived for centuries largely because a room full of men once had the foresight to add 10 additional provisions to the country’s new Constitution – the group of essential amendments we simply call The Bill of Rights today. The very first of those amendments crucially states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Guaranteeing a free press comes before the right to have guns, it comes before guaranteeing a trial by jury, it comes before protections against cruel and unusual punishment and the amendment guaranteeing separation of powers within the government. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
Although President Trump is not technically limiting the freedom of the press through any executive or legislative action at this time, he is doing something that we argue is more insidious – he is attacking and undermining the vital role that the free press plays in our democracy. He is actively selling people that the media in general – not just a handful of outlets guilty of sensationalism or bad ethics – is not to be trusted, and that his version of truth is the only thing that matters.
We agree with Ronald Reagan, who once said that, “Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority or government has a monopoly on the truth…”
It is the goal of any credible news organization to expose lies and uncover truth. Unlike most businesses (and businessmen, like Trump), that strive to promote their version of truth and promote only good news about themselves, the press is, in a perfect world, an objective force which puts ideas, people and governments on trial in the court of public opinion – regardless of whether or not the verdict is of positive or negative consequence to any of the parties involved.
In countless cases throughout history, the press has been responsible for uncovering some of the most important secrets that have changed the entire trajectory of our society. Some of these, such as the Watergate break in and the release of the Pentagon Papers, put the news outlets that reported them at great risk – not just from a business perspective, but also to the people working against powerful forces who would rather these secrets stay hidden.
There are countless examples of the press shining a light of truth on shadows of deceit that will go unrecorded in history books. Countless hours of investigative work by journalists from smaller communities will be read by only a handful of people. But the premise has always remained the same –when powerful people have so much at stake and more reasons to lie rather than tell the truth, the workings of a free, unbiased press is the only non-violent force the public has to keep the scales of justice balanced.
By choosing to malign the press as simply spreading “fake news” when it publishes a piece that paints him in a negative light, Donald Trump is chipping away at one of the foundational pillars of our democracy. We are sorry to say that the people who simply accept his lazy brushing off of facts and disregard for the truth – the same people standing on a platform supported by that pillar – are helping sharpen his chisel.
We are not saying the media is infallible or above criticism. Rather, we believe that the media, despite all of its imperfections – much of that, ironically, caused by the profit-driven tactics of businessmen that created the 24-hour news cycle – is absolutely crucial to a healthy America.
Donald Trump does not get to dictate what is true, and what is fake. In fact, nobody does. The truth simply is, and it’s our job to find it and tell it to you. Some of us take this responsibility much more seriously than others, and some unfortunately undermine that mission for selfish agendas. However, James Madison actually summed up why a free press is essential – even despite the negative elements that come with it – in his 1801 essay decrying the Sedition Acts of 1798, which limited free speech that was “critical” of the government.
“Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of every thing, and in no instance is this more true than in that of the press. It has accordingly been decided by the practice of the States, that it is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth, than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigour of those yielding the proper fruits.”