Independent Press Is Under Siege


Happy Birthday, America, I guess.

You’re old enough to know that you can’t always have a feel-good birthday. And let’s face it: This Fourth of July just isn’t going to be one of them.

How could it be when one of the pillars of our 241-year-old republic — the First Amendment — is under near-daily assault from the highest levels of the government?

When the president of the United States makes viciously personal attacks against journalists — and then doubles down over the weekend by posting a video on Twitter showing himself tackling and beating a figure with a CNN logo superimposed on his head? (Every time you think he’s reached the limit …)

How could it be when the president lashes out at The Washington Post by making a veiled threat against the business interests of its owner, Jeff Bezos, suggesting that his other company, Amazon, is a tax avoider?

Or when the White House plays so many games with its press briefings, taking them off camera and placing conditions on how and when they can run — or, in the case of its rare, unrestricted live briefings, using them to falsely accuse the news media of “dishonesty”?

For those who cherish a robust free press, it’s hard to feel much like partying after witnessing how some cheered Representative Greg Gianforte, Republican of Montana, for body slamming a reporter for The Guardian, Ben Jacobs. His sin: asking unwelcome questions.

The “he had it coming” camp’s celebration of the violence against a reporter seemed out of step with Mr. Gianforte’s own response. He ultimately apologized, pleaded guilty to assault and pledged a $50,000 donation to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Then again, it wasn’t out of step with President Trump, whose weekend tweet appeared to promote violence against CNN — which, some argued, violated Twitter’s harassment policies — certainly undercut Mr. Gianforte’s message of contrition.

Yes, America, all of the attacks against something so central to your identity must have you in quite the birthday funk.

The likely reaction in anti-press precincts to a column like this one will be that mainstream journalists think they’re above reproach, which is nonsense.

When a real news organization makes a mistake, it takes action, as CNN recently did when it retracted an article about the Russia investigation, saying the article had not received the proper vetting. Three people lost their jobs.

The Trump administration torqued it into supposed proof that CNN and much of the rest of the news media — including The New York Times and The Washington Post — are “fake news.”

It was a powerful reminder to journalists everywhere to take the extra time to get it right, to make sure that the processes that ensure editorial quality and accuracy remain intact and strong.

The stakes are higher now, as the anti-press sentiment veers into calls for more action against journalists, if not against journalism itself.

~~~  READ MORE  ~~~

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