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Dec. 9, 2019

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In Our View: Trump’s Words Un-American

President’s cries of ‘fake news’ target one of this nation’s founding principles

The Columbian
Published: August 16, 2018, 6:03am

The threat is real. It is profound. It is a danger to the ideals that have made the United States a beacon of freedom for the world.

Each time President Donald Trump decries “fake news” or says the media is “the enemy of the people” or points to reporters and calls them “horrible, horrendous people,” a little piece of America dies. And yet the president persists, undermining the very foundation of this nation while creating a cultural divide that will have lasting repercussions.

Because of that, The Columbian is joining with newspapers throughout the country today in editorializing against these most un-American actions by an American president. Trump’s frequent harangues against the media, born of thin-skinned immaturity and disrespect for the pillars of this nation, represent an appalling and unacceptable rejection of all that makes America great.

When it comes to considering the media in a free society, we are inclined to side with the Founding Fathers, who included, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Or with Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Or with author Richard Kluger, who wrote, “Every time a newspaper dies, even a bad one, the country moves a little closer to authoritarianism.”

Therein lies the danger of the president’s demagoguery. Trump is so averse to the truth that his only recourse is to demonize those who dare to tell it. According to The Washington Post, by the beginning of August he had made 4,229 false or misleading statements during 558 days in office. Whether or not one considers that to be “fake news,” it is alarming; even if the president had told only one-quarter that number of falsehoods, it would essentially mark him as an untrustworthy snake-oil salesman.

Yet some people, too many people, are buying. A recent poll by Ipsos found that 44 percent of Republicans believe the president should have the power to shutter media outlets for “bad behavior.” As Trump has demonstrated countless times, “bad behavior” in his mind is anything critical of his policies, actions or statements. As he also has demonstrated countless times, he would rather launch calculated attacks against the media than defend his statements with facts or evidence. In the opening days of his presidency, a surrogate defended the use of “alternative facts,” ignoring the notion that facts are facts and the alternative to that is lies.

Not that the media is infallible; mistakes can be made in the pursuit of truth. But it is a foundational ethic of the profession that when an error is made, a correction is issued. Respect for the truth demands constant effort. The American people should expect nothing less from the administration of any president, lest they become complicit in totalitarianism.

All of which makes assertions that the media is “an enemy of the people” disconcerting. Because reporters are the American people. At a newspaper such as The Columbian, the staff is made of people who live in the community, who shop at the same stores as their readers, who attend the same churches and who send their children to the same schools.

Ignoring that or suggesting otherwise is simply an effort to distract from reality and to undermine one of the pillars of freedom. And those efforts must be rejected.