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A Free Press Is Not ‘The Enemy of the People.’ It’s Democracy’s Stalwart Ally

Trump speaks to reporters on the White House South Lawn in November 2018. – Courtesy photo

News has been delegitimized and under siege acutely, since Trump’s reign began

Opinion by Terry Miller

There have always been presidential “enemies” list(s) but perhaps none more so than now with the most recent administration’s disdain for the press and anyone who dare question Trump’s sovereignty.

Therefore, a few days post World Press Freedom Day, we plead with great magnitude, the importance of a free press in a troubled world.

Is it contradiction, collusion, confusion, or just plain chaos? Who knows what goes on in the

West Wing these days. One thing is certain however, that it is unpredictable at best and down-right exasperating at worst.

The President has declared the press “the enemy of the people” and verbally raids just about anyone with whom he does not agree or even like, usually on Twitter and during his fairly frequent albeit rather noisy Marine One Monologues as he departs for places unknown.

These irritating little “press gaggles” seem to have replaced the once hallowed White House press briefings where one could actually hear the banter, wit and repartee between the accredited press corps in attendance and the White House spokesperson of the day.

During the second Bush administration, Marine One pilots apparently received directives beforehand from the White House if the president was going to speak to reporters on the lawn. “They’d say – ‘Hey, Boss is going to make some remarks, and we’d like it to be quiet,'” said Matt Howard, a former Marine One pilot. By contrast, Trump talks over the helicopter’s rather loud roar knowing full well the staged presser will incite ire.

According to those in the know, Trump is following in the footsteps of the “Gipper” who also used the engine’s roar to his advantage. Francis Buckley, a senior editor at the American Spectator, said Reagan had an “endearing/infuriating” habit of cupping his ear when a reporter shouted a tough question – as if asking: “What was that?” Then he’d refuse to answer the question.

“Reagan had a kind of personal self-discipline,” said HW Brands, the author of “Reagan: The Life,” explaining he would avoid lengthy discussions about sensitive topics with reporters. “Trump will just blurt out something.”

Besides playacting not to hear or care about reporters’ questions, Trump is quick to criticize and/or insult just about anyone in the media, especially the so called left-leaning or main stream. “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” Trump tweeted, not even a month after his inauguration in 2017.

Sticks and Stones, Mr. POTUS. 

Using Twitter as his own personal soap box, Trump has disparaged just about everyone; he even chimed in on the Kentucky Derby’s stunning outcome last weekend. “The Kentuky (sic) Derby decision was not a good one. It was a rough & tumble race on a wet and sloppy track, actually, a beautiful thing to watch. Only in these days of political correctness could such an overturn occur. The best horse did NOT win the Kentucky Derby – not even close!?”Trump later adjusted his original tweet, spelling “Kentucky” correctly.

What the Kentucky Derby has to do with political correctness escapes me.

Donald Trump reportedly drew up a list of his enemies working inside his own administration and instructed allies to “get rid” of them, a new book claims.

Author Cliff Sims, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and then for the White House as a communications aide until May 2018, released a book of his time working for the president, “Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House,” for which he received an alleged seven-figure advance from publisher Thomas Dunne Books, according to The New York Times.

In one incident recounted by Sims, he was in a private huddle with the president and Keith Schiller, his personal protection guru and longtime aide. They helped Trump write an enemies list using a Sharpie and White House stationery.

“We’re going to get rid of all the snakes, even the bottom-feeders,” Trump said, according to Sims, presumably to eradicate the intel leakers on the inside.

As the administration proceeds into unchartered waters of late, new allegations and fear mongering seem to rule the airwaves and in particular, the rather disturbing notion of Trump as a latter-day McCarthy “has become a fairly standard comparison.”

 “If we can’t hold our leaders responsible because we can’t ask and investigate their actions then we are on the road to authoritarianism,” said Stacey Abrams speaking at PEN America’s World Press Freedom Day in Atlanta on May 2.

Warren Hoge of the International Peace Institute said, “When we tolerate dishonesty, we get criminality, corruption and abuse of power. All of which stand directly in the way of sustaining peace.”

A book written by Marvin Kalb published in late 2018 entitled “Enemy of the People: Trump’s War on the Press, the New McCarthyism, and the Threat to American Democracy” is a stunning thread in the rich tapestry of Trump times. According to the book’s abstract:

“As we are all aware, shortly after assuming office in January 2017, Trump labeled the press “enemy of the American people.” It was just the beginning of a less than beautiful relationship between the White House and respected journalists:

“Twentieth-century dictators―notably, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao―had all denounced their critics, especially the press, as ‘enemies of the people.’ Their goal was to delegitimize the work of the press as ‘fake news’ and create confusion in the public mind about what’s real and what isn’t; what can be trusted and what can’t be.

“That, it seems, is also Mr. Trump’s objective. In ‘Enemy of the People,’ Kalb, writes with passion about why we should fear for the future of American democracy because of the unrelenting attacks by the Trump administration on the press.”

Kalb cites Edward R. Murrow’s courageous reporting on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “red scare” theatrics in the early 1950s, which led to McCarthy’s demise. He reminds us of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s reporting in the early 1970s that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

President Donald Trump said that he compared the special counsel investigation to McCarthyism, saying Robert Mueller made the late Senator Joseph McCarthy “look like a baby.” McCarthy led a Cold War-era inquisition of alleged communists who he claimed had infiltrated American governmental institutions. The Wisconsin Republican’s assertions, famously voiced in a speech in 1950, contributed to the paranoia and fear known as “the Red Scare.”

A special Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee investigated McCarthy’s initial claims about communists infiltrating the State Department and found them to be “a fraud and a hoax.”

Upon becoming chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee’s subcommittee on investigations in 1953, McCarthy expanded his probes into alleged communist activity. In 1954, he began investigating the U.S. Army. The three months of Army-McCarthy hearings shattered the senator’s image and led to his censure by the Senate.

The President’s comparison between the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the trials of McCarthyism was one of a series of tweets that lashed out before the release of the Mueller Report.

“Study the late Joseph McCarthy, because we are now in period with Mueller and his gang that make Joseph McCarthy look like a baby! Rigged Witch Hunt!,” Trump tweeted.

Whatever the President’s message may be, it’s resoundingly clear that there is a deep divide in the United States where our Democracy is at stake with misinformation, rumors, and political projectiles coming from all sides of the equator.

Perhaps by 2020 our collective vision can clear up misconceptions and misnomers with a clear and colorful perspective and our forefathers’ vision can once again be extolled without the unnecessary narcissistic narrative.

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