There is real, permanent harm in President Trump’s attempt to turn citizens against the press. Imperfect as it is, it’s still the best institution we as a people have for checking and challenging people in power.
And if you haven’t noticed, people in power tend to need checking on.
After the Helsinki Summit, the president referenced the media as “the real enemy of the American people.” He’d done it before and he’s done it since. This week, hundreds of newspapers across the country, including this one, are answering a Boston Globe call to respond.
We’re not as effective as we want to be in checking power, but we’re not your enemy. Newspapers in small and big markets are still your best bet for getting all sides of a story.
When the president turns to propaganda and a phrase such as “enemy of the people,” it has a totalitarian ring that should concern us all, no matter where we are on the political spectrum.
It divides us. It puts everyone on one side or the other. It’s no way to run a society.
The president has had good luck staying on message and keeping it simple: “Build a wall!” “Lock her up!” It’s not hard to imagine him riding this “enemy of the people” trope until it drops, like birtherism and Benghazi before it.
Don’t fall for it. Repetition does not make something true if it isn’t. Read and listen to the news with the same questioning skepticism you always have. Find news sources you trust and follow them. (And that doesn’t mean finding sources that tell you what you want the truth to be.)
The nature of news has been muddied by a flourishing of advocacy journalism — publications and broadcast outlets that take a particular point of view. If that’s all you expose yourself to, then you’re putting more trust in one source than we would recommend.
But the vast majority of news outlets, from this Washington to the other one, are just like the newspapers and radio stations that serve Grays Harbor and Pacific counties. They are staffed by people who do what they do because they think communities are better off if the people in them know how their governments function and in what direction their leaders are taking them.
The people who work on those staffs are trained to be fair and accurate. Within their human limitations, they are.
President Trump will come and go, and the country will carry on. But if his effort to create distrust in the institution of the press gains traction, he will leave real harm in his wake.