Something is wrong when the leader of the free world sees the press as an enemy.
The erosion of civility and the normalization of violent rhetoric has not been isolated to the political right or left. Allegations of treason and terms like “war” and “attack” are thrown around freely in too many forums, even among some of our colleagues in the media.
Some liberal commentators tell Americans it’s OK to punch people they identify as fascists. Just last weekend in Washington, D.C., members of the supposed anti-fascist movement physically attacked journalists gathered to cover the demonstration, reportedly damaging newsgathering equipment in at least a few cases.
However, most of those who engage in violent rhetoric and behavior have not been tolerated, much less embraced, by their ideological allies in the political class. And while politicians throughout our history have frequently shown distrust and even contempt for the press, no modern president has harvested outright hostility toward journalists the way President Donald Trump has.
This is not normal, and it is not OK.
There was a time not long ago when support for the First Amendment was not a partisan or ideological issue. Now there are troubling signs of waning support for the fundamental right to free speech. Several public opinions polls in the past two years have shown Trump supporters are more likely to support government interference with the press than are his opponents.
We readily acknowledge media organizations are far from perfect. There are plenty of examples where the mainstream media gets the facts wrong, and far more examples of journalists failing to provide adequate context or bending details to fit one political agenda or another. That has not changed in the nearly 300-year history of American journalism.
Trump often treats “the media” as a monolith, apparently imagining a coordinated effort among news organizations to slander his leadership. Yet most news organizations are locally operated, community broadcasters and newspapers, like The Gazette. If any such conspiracy exists, we have not been invited to conspire.
What happens when groups of people isolate themselves from national and community conversations and cling to alternative and unaccountable sources of information? Nothing good. Fringe ideas, even some easily debunked conspiracy theories, seem to have become more widely accepted in some circles.
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Trump did not invent the type of scorched-earth political gamesmanship he is peddling today, but he has pushed it to new levels when it comes to dealing with journalists. A healthy republic demands a free press, and Americans must demand political leaders who will respect it.
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