Summit Daily News editor: President Trump, journalists are not the enemy (column)
August 15, 2018
President Donald J. Trump's Twitter feed is a battlefield strewn with the burned bodies of his enemies. His rallies are launching pads for mortar shells aimed at anyone who withholds their absolute allegiance.
No one is safe, not even members of his administration. In the past year, he's likened both Omarosa Manigault-Newman and "Sloppy" Steve Bannon to dogs. He called U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions "DISGRACEFUL!"
Trump saves most of his ire, however, for Democrats, Republicans, immigrants, black athletes, members of the "deep state," foreign allies and the Clintons (always the Clintons, forever and ever, amen, the Clintons).
Above all, Trump's favorite target is the "mainstream media," "the fake news," "the dishonest press," and, everyone's favorite, "the enemy of the people." The phrase is ancient in origin, stretching from the Roman rule of Nero, through the French Revolution's "Reign of Terror" and into the modern era, where Nazis and the Soviets eagerly adopted it. It's a term of art for dictators and despots who seek to demonize undesirables.
Historically, the phrase has also been wielded to malign truth-tellers and voices of dissent.
In Henrik Ibsen's 1882 play "An Enemy of the People," the protagonist, Dr. Thomas Stockmann, discovers that the drainage system for his Norwegian town's popular spa is dangerously contaminated. Hoping to save lives, he alerts town leaders. Instead of being heralded as a hero, he is discredited and turned into a pariah for revealing a hard truth that could destabilize the town's economy. Despite his best efforts, he ultimately is seen as the enemy of the people.
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The problem with Stockmann is that he's kind of a jerk. An elitist, you might say. "The most dangerous enemies of truth and freedom are the majority!" he shrieks. At one point, Stockmann even calls the town leaders standing in his way "curs," another word for dog (where have we heard that before?).
But on the threat to the town's people, Stockmann had truth on his side. He wasn't wrong. The facts still mattered even if the community chose to ignore them.
Discounting the facts that don't suit us is a dangerous place to be for any society.
One of Trump's most disturbing statements on the news media was a disorienting plea for his supporters to simply shun reality.
"What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening," he said after his widely criticized summit with Vladimir Putin, most of which was taped and televised in its entirety.
When it comes to our news media, Trump has focused his rage mainly at giant institutions like CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post, calling them "a disgrace to journalism" and "a fraud on the American Public." He says this despite the vitally important work they're doing to hold our government accountable.
Perhaps he does this strategically and cynically: Erode the public's confidence in the media, so that no one will believe them when they report negative things about him. Regardless of his motives, his statements are damaging to our democracy.
A recent poll suggests that a majority of Republicans now believe the press is the enemy.
Small news outlets like the Summit Daily News have largely flown under the radar of this anti-media sentiment. Or have they?
Even down at the community level, we here at the Daily have seen a steady trickling down of the 45th president's corrosive views of the Fourth Estate.
Just this month, reporter Deepan Dutta interviewed Dr. Carl White, a pediatric pulmonologist at Children's Hospital Colorado in Denver. The doctor urged Summit County and Colorado residents to avoid going outside or to wear dust masks because of the persistent yellow haze caused by the wildfires burning from here to California. He characterized the smoke as a serious threat to public health, one that might become a new normal for people used to pristine mountain air.
To be sure, what Dr. White had to say was unsettling. What will happen to our health, both physical and economic, if we must endure season after season of smoke?
"This is uncharted territory as far as the amount of smoke being inhaled by a large population," White said.
It could threaten our very way of life. That is a hard thing to face. However, it is essential that we don't turn our backs on our biggest challenges.
It was an important story and many readers were grateful for the information we shared. Others, though not many, followed the Trumpian script:
"You hypocrites said the smoke wasnt a problem last November when we were skiing Breck in a stinky yellow haze from controlled burning, this newspaper is nothing but false news and propaganda," wrote one reader on Facebook.
Other readers accused us of being "misleading" or "alarmist."
We respectfully disagree. But make no mistake, we don't always get it right and we want you to call us on it. We correct the record when we err. We strive to tell the truth, as do thousands of media outlets across the country every day. It's important work — work that largely falls not to coastal elites, but to low-paid, hard-working blue collar types who take immense pride in keeping communities connected and informed. We're here to serve you. That means telling stories that demand to be told, regardless of the blowback — without fear or favor.
Ben Trollinger has been the editor of the Summit Daily News since 2012. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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