Observer Editorial: Journalism trumps ‘Fake News’
Observer Editorial Board | Friday, November 10, 2017
Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of Donald J. Trump securing his role as the leader of the United States of America in the 2016 presidential election. The year since Trump’s election has been filled with several points of contention, including his repeated attacks on the free press.
Trump has used his presidential campaign and presidency to redefine the term “fake news.” PolitiFact defines the term as “fabricated content that intentionally masquerades as news coverage of actual events.” When Trump uses this phrase, however, he is most often referring to unflattering coverage of him and his administration, most of which cannot be considered actual fake news. On June 27, Entertainment Weekly published a list of every tweet in which Trump used the phrase “fake news” — the list was 73 tweets long at the time. The Trump administration’s use of the term has become so prevalent that Collins Dictionary just named “fake news” its word of the year for 2017.
Trump has gone as far as to challenge the First Amendment, which states “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” At a February 2016 rally during his presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump threatened to “open up the libel laws” to make it easier for him to sue news outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. Almost a year later, Trump called the media “the enemy of the American people” on Twitter. Most recently, on Oct. 11, Trump issued a tweet asking, “at what point is it appropriate to challenge” the licenses of networks that air unfavorable coverage of him and his administration.
These frequent cries of fake news and challenges to the First Amendment are dangerous in a democracy. The free press has stood as a pillar of this country since its inception, informing the electorate and keeping government accountable, proving its value time and time again.
In 1971, The New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers, a series of documents that revealed the Johnson administration had lied to the public and to Congress about the progress of the Vietnam War. Not only did this investigation inform Americans of the truth about the controversial conflict and hold the government responsible for its decisions, but it also led to a Supreme Court decision that reaffirmed the right of the press to operate without government interference.
One year after the Times published the Pentagon Papers, The Washington Post began publishing a series of stories about the Nixon administration’s role in a break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate hotel. The Watergate scandal eventually led to an overhaul of the administration, culminating with President Richard Nixon becoming the first U.S. president to resign.
Examples of journalism’s importance are abundant today as well. The New York Times and The New Yorker exposed Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul and alleged serial sexual predator, in October after accusations that he had been sexually assaulting women for years. Weinstein himself seems to understand the power of the press, as he hired a network of investigators to help him attempt to derail the publication of any allegations against him. His failure to do so has resulted in upwards of 50 women coming forward to accuse Weinstein of sexual assault, the #MeToo campaign going viral on social media and the public identification of other alleged sexual predators.
Barring any radical developments, President Trump has at least three more years in the White House. One year removed from his election, it is clear that he is still not a friend of the free press, and it doesn’t seem as though he will be changing his mind anytime soon. In light of that probability, there are several things we can — and must — do to ensure journalism endures and thrives throughout Trump’s presidency and beyond.
Subscribing to newspapers not only benefits specific papers financially, but also shows support for journalism in general. A column by New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof says the paper’s stock price has risen by almost two-thirds of what it was before Trump began his assault on the “failing” publication.
At the local papers, too, important work is being done every day — whether it’s reporting on city budgets or on school board meetings that affect thousands of people. While countless outlets report on the president every day, sometimes only a handful report on city and county governments and institutions. Supporting those local papers can mean a lot for communities across the country.
Journalism is not perfect. Journalists make mistakes and don’t get the full story in every scenario. But as the Editorial Board of The Los Angeles Times wrote in an April editorial, “Even if we are not faultless, the news media remain an essential component in the democratic process and should not be undermined by the president.”
And that’s true now more than ever before in our lifetimes.