WASHINGTON — Hundreds of newspapers around the country ran editorials on Thursday highlighting the value of a free press amid attacks on the media as “fake news” and the “enemy of the American people.”
Last week, the Boston Globe called on publications to run the editorials, as concern rises that President Donald Trump’s routine criticism of the news media are going beyond normal tensions between journalists and those who hold power.
“Criticizing the news media — for underplaying or overplaying stories, for getting something wrong — is entirely right. News reporters and editors are human, and make mistakes,” the New York Times wrote in its editorial. “Correcting them is core to our job. But insisting that truths you don’t like are ‘fake news’ is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. And calling journalists the ‘enemy of the people’ is dangerous, period.”
Many of the editorials, though, focused on the value of the free press not just at the national level but in local communities. Publications in small towns and medium-sized cities have struggled to stay afloat as ad dollars and circulation shrinks.
In its editorial, the Tribune in San Luis Obispo, Calif., noted that while “we fly under the president’s radar,” the paper also has “been undermined by Trump’s campaign to demonize journalists.”
“Over the past couple of years, here at the Tribune we’ve encountered a steady barrage of criticism: We suck. We lie. We are part of a vast conspiracy aimed at (you name it). We can’t be objective (or knowledgeable) because of where we live or what religion we practice or because all journalists are part of the lying, liberal media. We’re on the payroll of the DNC. We should start mowing lawns or washing cars, because our industry is failing and it’s all our fault. None of this is new, but the chorus of haters has gotten bigger and louder and meaner, and it affects the entire staff.”
One of its staffers received a threat from a reader upset with the paper’s content, and the paper noted the fatal shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. in late June.
“Before anyone condemns or dismisses this as just more ‘Trump bashing,’ consider it instead a respectful and urgent request of our President Donald Trump to stop belittling and insulting dedicated, hard-working reporters and to instead offer the same respect his office commands,” read and editorial in the News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. “Consider it a call to stop lumping together as ‘the media’ both legitimate news-gatherers and those whose practice of propaganda is meant to mislead and misinform for self-serving purposes.”
The New York Times ran a roundup of all of the editorials here.
Some major newspapers declined to participate. The Los Angeles Times “decided not to write about the subject on this particular Thursday because we cherish our independence,” wrote its editorial page editor, Nicholas Goldberg. The Times has weighed in before on the importance of a free press, he noted.
“The president himself already treats the media as a cabal — ‘enemies of the people,’ he has called us, suggesting over and over that we’re in cahoots to do damage to the country,” Goldberg wrote. “The idea of joining together to protest him seems almost to encourage that kind of conspiracy thinking by the president and his loyalists. Why give them ammunition to scream about ‘collusion’?”
The Senate on Thursday passed a resolution that “affirms that the press is not the enemy of the people” and condemns attacks on the media. The resolution passed by unanimous consent.
The Society of Professional Journalists, with more than 7,000 members, issued a letter in which its incoming president, J. Alex Tarquinio, noted that its code of ethics includes four tenets: Seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent.
“These goals may sound uncontroversial,” he wrote. “Yet since the United States’ inception, some in positions of power have sought to silence the vigilant and courageous watchdogs of the press. Current times are no different. The more those with power spread rhetoric to silence journalism, the more evident it becomes that it is direly needed.”
On Thursday morning, Trump tweeted, “THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA IS THE OPPOSITION PARTY. It is very bad for our Great Country….BUT WE ARE WINNING!”
He followed up with two other tweets that addressed the coordinated editorials directly.
“The Boston Globe, which was sold to the the Failing New York Times for 1.3 BILLION DOLLARS (plus 800 million dollars in losses & investment), or 2.1 BILLION DOLLARS, was then sold by the Times for 1 DOLLAR. Now the Globe is in COLLUSION with other papers on free press. PROVE IT!” he wrote.
“There is nothing that I would want more for our Country than true FREEDOM OF THE PRESS. The fact is that the Press is FREE to write and say anything it wants, but much of what it says is FAKE NEWS, pushing a political agenda or just plain trying to hurt people. HONESTY WINS!” he added.