A Press for the People

By MATT SMITH

It’s no secret that President Trump has a tenuous relationship with the truth– the Washington Post’s tireless fact-checkers have recorded 6,420 lies or falsehoods from 649 days in office. While the president’s disregard for the truth is troubling, his blatant disrespect and animosity for the press is even more disconcerting.

Trump has called journalists the “enemy of the people”, evoking a phrase most infamously used by history’s worst dictators. He has spent hours on twitter and at rallies undermining the press, trying to paint every piece of negative coverage – even factual analyses of his policies – as being “fake news”. He has mocked a reporter with a disability. He has shared parody videos on twitter that show him beating up CNN. He’s encouraged chants of “CNN Sucks” at his rallies. He has congratulated a congressman for body-slamming a reporter who asked him a tough question. And, most recently, he has revoked press access from CNN’s Jim Acosta.

The White House claimed Acosta was banned for being physical with an intern, offering proof through a soundless, manipulated video (taken from InfoWars) that makes it look like Acosta karate-chopped the intern who grabbed his mic. As anyone can tell from the original video, this clearly did not happen. The intern grabbed Acosta’s arm, and he moved the mic away and said “pardon me, ma’am” while he continued his line of questioning. The White House knows this, of course, and the edited footage is just their invented rational to cover their true reasoning for revoking Acosta’s access – they don’t like his coverage or his questions.

It’s no secret that Acosta is a controversial reporter. He asks very direct questions, he is often blunt, and he presses for answers. Acosta’s critics say that he occasionally seem to be grandstanding, rather than reporting, and that his style is outright disrespectful. To that, I’d ask you to put yourself in his shoes. You are the representative of a company designed to find and report the truth. Your company was sent two bombs in the mail last week. You are standing feets from the president of the United States, inquiring about what you consider to be a grave humanitarian crisis. The president obfuscates, lies, and insults you in response to your question. Do you not ask a follow up?

Even if you grant that Acosta’s actions disrespectful, rather than patriotic, censoring him is clearly unacceptable. Jim Acosta has the right to report the facts, he has a right to ask tough questions, and he most certainly has a right – as does the representative of every other publication – to do his job. Unless he is consistently dishonest (he’s not), or threatens the President, there is no justification for his removal. 

The press should be comforting to all of us – they’re the only form of government oversight that belongs truly to the people. In the event that the Supreme Court, Congress, and the White House are all corrupt, a free press can inform us and help us hold our leaders accountable at the ballot box; it’s essential in a democracy, nonnegotiable.

Yes, they are occasionally wrong. But from The Middlebury Campus to the New York Times, every publication publishes a corrections section to hold themselves to the highest levels of accuracy. Allowing a leader to ban reporters he doesn’t like, allowing him to convince us that the media is the “enemy of the people”, is a clear step away from the ideals of those who founded this country.

This president escalates his attacks so often that it is difficult to remain shocked by his actions. But this week he stepped up from bullying and vilifying reporters to outright banning them – and he did it while asking us to ignore the plain truth of video footage. It seems George Orwell’s 1984 was prophetic – “The Party told you to ignore the evidence of your eyes and ears, it was their final, most essential command.”

We are not each other’s enemies, and facts matter. Don’t allow this president, or anyone else, to tell you otherwise.

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