The press is not the enemy, despite what President Donald Trump has said.
In fact, it is the news media’s responsibility to make life uncomfortable for people in power — to be a watchdog on potential abuses of that power. It’s no surprise that the politically powerful have long responded by accusing the press of being inaccurate, unfair or unpatriotic.
Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1970 famously referred to the news media as “nattering nabobs of negativism.” Two years later, President Richard Nixon said in a taped White House conversation, “The press is the enemy,” a phrase Trump adopted early in his presidency.
Even President George Washington “expressed dismay that his farewell address might not receive adequate press coverage,” according to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
As for Washington’s predecessors, the colonial governors allowed no freedom of the press. Criticizing the British monarchy was a crime. That is why the press was included among the five freedoms inscribed by our founders in the First Amendment.
And so, as the nation returns from its Independence Day celebrations and vacations, it’s worth reflecting on the role of the press in our country and our community.
It would be extreme to somehow blame Trump’s exhortations against the media for the mass shooting late last month at a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.
As is often the case in workplace violence, this apparently was the work of a deranged man carrying a grudge. Something sent him over the edge. His long-festering complaint had been that the newspaper had written — accurately, according to the courts — about his legal troubles for harassing and threatening a woman.
It is deeply unsettling that, along with a great outpouring of community support, the Capital Gazette has now received additional death threats and communications celebrating the slaying of its five newspaper employees.
Yet even in that environment, even amid the tragedy of losing colleagues in a senseless shooting, the newspaper continued publishing.
Because that’s what journalists do.
Journalism is a calling. It’s telling stories about crops and canneries, community festivals and classroom projects, and all sorts of groundbreakings and fresh starts, both in construction and in life. It’s about crime and punishment, probing the deep underbelly of society and alerting the public not only to what went wrong, but also revealing when things go right. It’s about going alongside first responders into the winds and wildfires when others are fleeing.
On the opinion pages, it’s cheerleading at times and challenging the community at other times. And, yes, holding the powerful accountable.
It’s about seeking truth as best we can and sometimes making mistakes — we’re human and fallible despite our best efforts every day — but promptly correcting our factual errors. And it’s about always giving readers the last word through letters to the editor, as we have for generations.
People can and will disagree. But that should not make any of us enemies. This is our community and our country — they belong to all of us.