This past Thursday, 350 newspapers joined in an editorial writing campaign lamenting President Donald Trump’s attacks on the press. And because it’s a social media age, it came with a hashtag, #FreePress. These editorials and the hashtag are designed to make people aware of the vital role a free press is to maintaining a healthy democracy.
Or at least that’s what they say.
Freedom of the press is a hot-button issue, partially because of President Trump’s seemingly endless attacks on the press, and partially because the press has earned quite a bit of scorn in recent years. (I’m looking right at you, Jim Acosta and April Ryan.) Whether you consider reporters to be brave warriors against an oppressive government (which begs the question of why they’re allowed to report if the government is so oppressive) or stenographers for the Left, it’s a good time to discuss freedom of the press again.
freedom of the press
What the Left thinks it means – the freedom for the press to publish what it wants without government interference
What it really means – the freedom for the press to publish facts and let the people decide without government interference
The Left loves to conflate what they think freedom of the press is with what it really is because, to them, a free press should be unfettered by editorial, social, or political norms. And for a long time, it was. Where the two concepts part company is that the former doesn’t take said norms into consideration anymore when deciding whether to run with a story or sit on it for a while. Remember, some of the same people who decry Trump’s attacks on the press were pretty silent during the Clinton and Obama years in spite of the egregious acts those two Presidents took against the press.
Or was it that the press allowed themselves to ignore?
There’s the rub. (Settle down, Mr. Clinton.) The media have immense power to create a perception of reality simply by deciding what deserves our attention and how it’s presented. The free press are gatekeepers of information and can either promote or kill a story with a single editorial decision. Such power needs to be used judiciously and impartially as possible. Unfortunately, the free press has decided to abuse that power to cater to an ideologically-driven audience. And it worked for a long time.
Then, talk radio, Fox News, and the Internet came into being. Although they too fall into the same trap the press has, they provide an alternative view to what is being presented by other sources. You know, like the 350 newspapers parroting the same editorial about how freedom of the press is important? The Left has always seen talk radio, Fox News, and the Internet as one-offs that can be ignored/discarded/mocked, but they miss one important element: these sources are also branches of the free press tree. Just because they’re ideologically different from you doesn’t make them any less factual or balanced.
And speaking of balanced, who do you think is the most balanced news network in reporting on President Trump? That would be…Fox News, with a smaller difference between positive and negative coverage than the rest of the free press. MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times, and others have made it a personal vendetta to spew as much negative news about Trump as they can. Trump could walk on water and they would say it’s because he’s afraid to swim.
The #FreePress situation is a self-inflicted wound from people who keep turning the handle of the Gatling gun pointed at their feet in the hopes a bullet will ricochet and hit their target. Their main problem unless they change their tactics is they’ll either run out of bullets or run out of feet without even getting in a shot on their target. Say what you will about freedom of the press, but what we are seeing now from the press isn’t something that necessarily should be shrouded in the concept of a right. What the free press is doing currently is a disservice to the bedrock principles that made freedom of the press worth fighting for in the first place.
When I was just starting to learn about how to be a reporter, my journalism professor drove it into my head to leave my feelings out of what I saw and report on what happened using the best judgment available. The example he used was whether a newspaper would be okay to run the picture of a dead body next to a story about a gruesome murder. Would the picture be newsworthy? Absolutely. Should it be run? That’s a tough call. The editor making that decision would have to balance the benefits of running the photo against the negative implications that would arise from running it.
Today’s loudest defenders of freedom of the press have their thumbs on the scale of that decision, and it has created an environment where there are people who actually do want to limit the freedom of the press, including our President. And last time I checked, the President has access to nukes, so it might be a good idea to slow your roll a bit.
Having said that, freedom of the press isn’t under assault as much as those proclaiming it is are trying to make it out to be. Unless, of course, you consider being held to a level of accountability to be oppressive, which news flash…IT ISN’T! Journalism isn’t an occupation for the faint of heart, and those who take up that line of work deserve a level of respect until they try to take shortcuts, either out of laziness or out of allegiance to an ideology. And if it’s not one, it’s the other.
If the #FreePress crowd is really concerned about the negative image they’ve cultivated (admitted with President Trump’s help), they need to take a step back and do an honest accounting of what they’ve done and continue to do. Take the emotions and politics out of it and deal with the facts. If you can’t do that, you are part of the problem and you need to relearn Reporting 101. If you can and you feel you did nothing wrong, see the previous point. If you can and you can’t take pride in what you’ve done and do, then fix it and encourage others to do the same. To borrow a different hashtag with a similar sentiment, #WalkAway.
And to the reporters, editors, and media types jumping on the #FreePress bandwagon under the guise of protecting freedom of press, remember one thing. Freedom is a constant fight. You don’t get it by virtue of your occupation or ideology; you earn it by working to preserve it. A hashtag and a constant stream of negativity towards a President you don’t like in defiance of the truth, or conversely a constant stream of positivity towards a President you do like in defiance of the truth, doesn’t cut it. Earn the respect you seek.