In times of political turmoil, it becomes the status quo to point fingers. People blame legislators, the states and voters who put them in power, major political machines and public entities. All of that is happening now. The country is in a position of fear and division, and everyone seems to have feelings about the future of the United States and the Trump administration. More recently, however, the profession of journalism has become the scapegoat for the disorder and dishonesty that have taken over American politics. This pattern, more than anything, is destructive and dangerous and poses a threat to the liberty politicians have vowed to protect.
Journalism has always been a way for the people to check the government. People fought for their right to dissent and to criticize the people in power. In the early 1900s, investigative journalists known as muckrakers became important voices for government criticism. They questioned the motives of politicians and major corporations, which often made people uncomfortable. They were revolutionary because they did what good journalism is meant to do. The things that make us uncomfortable or upset are important; they are upsetting because they matter. Naturally, these criticisms have not always been convenient for political officials, but rarely has a presidential administration attempted to outwardly suppress or discredit them.
“A good president would understand the necessity of journalism from all angles, not just the one making them look perfect,” senior Haley Koenig said. “A democracy is not perfect, and neither is any person.”
There is a reason that the press has, historically, been treated by politicians as untouchable. Journalism is the only profession protected by the Constitution. Among freedom of speech and religion, the First Amendment also promises U.S Citizens a free press, as long as it is true and just. That is because a free press is necessary for a functioning democracy. It works as a check on the government while not being controlled by it. It is a way for normal people to know what it happening, a way to stay informed and politically active, a way to demand change and express public opinion. When politicians begin to attack journalists, they are attacking truth and monopolizing on fear.
When President Trump told us that he wanted to change libel laws during his campaign, we should have been worried. “I'm going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We're going to open up those libel laws,” Trump said in a Texas campaign rally on Feb. 2, 2016.
Libel laws, which protect journalists from angry public figures from suing them when they publish things they dislike, are what protect a free press. Things can only be libelous if they are untrue. These protections prevent politicians for suing for defamation based solely upon anger.
“In this political climate, the press is quickly becoming the hero of the American people… if we are saved, if things get better, it will be because the press has saved us,” English teacher Tim Larkin said.
We should be alarmed by President Trump’s attacks on journalists and news agencies. Recently, he has taken to twitter, saying that the “FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn’t tell the truth,” and telling his supporters “Don’t believe the mainstream (fake news) media.”
These may seem like empty words, but they are not. On Feb. 24, CNN, Politico, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and BuzzFeed were barred from attending an informal press briefing. Fox News, Breitbart, and other right-leaning agencies were allowed. Our Constitutional right to a free press does not have fine print based on political ideation. While some of our news has become polarized, it is still an important part of politics, and represents the varying feelings of the American public.
“It's important to report the good, bad, but most importantly the truth,” Koenig said.
This is not the only reason that we should be alarmed. Historically, a restricted and attacked press has been a signal of a forthcoming violation of human rights. After the ban placed on seven majority Muslim countries in January, many politicians and civil rights groups have already begun to draw parallels between the Trump administration and the early stages of Nazi Germany. When Adolf Hitler took power, he immediately outlawed publications that opposed the Third Reich, instead using news agencies that aligned with his political views as a form of propaganda. Oppressive governments are so quick to shut down the press because they know that knowledge is freedom; it lays the foundation for dissent and change. Without knowledge, people are easy to control, and it is easy to make them think that they are not being controlled at all.
We need to stop ignoring it when politicians call news fake, or when they condemn the press for failing to “give Trump a chance.” It is not the job of journalists to blindly support the current administration. It is their responsibility to question it. Fascism does not thrive among the vocal and the informed; it thrives amongst silence.