Editorial: In midst of assaults, we must defend principles of First Amendment
Today, the Daily Herald editorial board joins more than 200 similar boards at newspapers across the country in a cause we've been championing for years -- the protection of America's free press against an unprecedented assault from the highest office of the nation's government.
Consider this description from one of our first editorials on the topic in December 2016: "Why we're saying (that the press is under assault) -- why it needs to be said, why it needs to be shouted unapologetically -- is because it's dangerous.
"It undermines our democracy.
"It allows those in power to say, 'Ignore the facts no matter what the facts may be.'
"It allows partisans of both parties to say, 'Believe in my distortions because you agree with my ideology.' Or, 'because you agree with my cult personality.'
"It allows anyone who screws up to say, 'The problem's not me; the problem's the messenger.' "
Do those words remind you of anything you've heard from the mouth and pen of the president of the United States in the year and a half since they were published?
We could start, of course, with his repeated declaration that the press is the "enemy of the people," a characterization he declared in a tweet just last week: "They (news outlets) purposely cause great division & distrust," he tweeted on Aug. 5. "They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!"
That message came a couple of weeks after President Donald Trump told a gathering of veterans -- men and women who have fought and risked their lives for the freedoms he decries -- to "Just remember. What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening," then added, in goosebump imagery straight out of George Orwell's "1984," "Just stick with us. Don't believe the (vulgarity) you see from these people, the fake news."
We repeat: This is dangerous. It is the language of despots -- Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Chavez, Mao and countless other individuals and organizations who style themselves as the only legitimate representatives for the masses. Is this the company with which a United States president wishes to be associated? Are these the voices United States citizens wish to respect and promote?
To the contrary, this is the language that men and women who love our country and its values have been fighting against with their lives, limbs and livelihoods from the earliest days of the American Revolution. To turn it on the institutions that have been built on so much sacrifice is a desecration of our most fundamental principles.
There are significant differences in the reliability, politics and motives of America's broad and complex media panorama. The Daily Herald is not the Tulsa World is not the Portland Oregonian is not The New York Times is not the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. MSNBC is not CNN is not Fox News is not CNBC. The Associated Press is not Bloomberg News is not The Washington Post is not Universal Press Syndicate. The Daily Beast is not Politico is not TMZ is not The Hill. Time is not Newsweek is not Mother Jones is not The Economist.
The press in America is no blend of disparate tastes and interests into one singular identifiable amalgamation. It is a vast, diversified collection of distinct voices serving specific interests and communities. This is the very nature of democracy.
Every outlet is open to criticism, of course. No doubt, each one -- especially those like the Daily Herald that set for themselves the highest standards for trust and community service -- falls short of its goals and principles. But when all are approached with reflexive contempt and the only voice we are urged to respect is the one at the head of the government, we represent something very different from the ideals that so many people have sacrificed for, that have served us as a people in a manner unprecedented throughout human history and that have lit a beacon of democracy envied and copied around the world.
"It is time for those who cherish freedom to come to the defense of the mainstream press, to come to the defense of the First Amendment," we declared in that 2016 editorial. Today, that time comes again, and the message is reverberating across the land in hundreds of tones and approaches that are as distinct as the editorial boards expressing them and the communities they serve.
We implore the president to hear it. We urge his allies to show the courage to challenge him and show support for it. And we urge you to resist any assault on it.
Facts Matter. Support a Free Press.