“A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.” — Albert Camus
Another Camus quote? Yeah, ‘fraid so. And yes, thoughts and concerns about a free press – and the importance of one – came into my head as I watched the debacle that passed as a press conference on Wednesday.
First, let me say that I do think Buzzfeed was wrong to print the Trump sex scandal blackmail report since it was both classified and known to be unsubstantiated – they let salacious win over sensibility – that’s tabloid journalism, not proper news reporting. I do think, though, that reporting it as a thing that exists, and that our security agencies were investigating was reasonable (so CNN is off the hook at the moment). That said, though, I have grave concerns about my soon-to-be-president’s attitude, and behavior, towards the press. Throughout his campaign, he banned various reporters – and entire news outlets – from his rallies, he actively encouraged (incited) hostility toward the attending members of the press at those rallies, he took to Twitter to deride media outlets that dared to be unflattering, and on and on, ad nauseam.
But that was pre-election. Surely we expected/hoped for a more presidential tone after the election? And clearly that is not what we’ve gotten. And, after this week’s long anticipated press conference, it is equally clear that the seventy year old man-child about to be sworn in to the highest office in this country, is incapable of behaving like a grown-up. There were several things that disturbed me about that performance on Wednesday, but one of the most disturbing was his flat-out refusal to take a question from CNN reporter Jim Acosta, stating that they were ‘fake news’. He also started out the press conference by saying that they used to hold press conferences but “We stopped giving them because we were getting quite a bit of inaccurate news”. Or, to put it another way, he was receiving a lot of unflattering coverage, questions he didn’t like, and reminders of the past transgressions.
I have very real concerns that he will continue that behavior once he is in office – and that the media, not wanting to be ‘left out’ – or possibly sued – will begin to give in to the pressure. Or, if they don’t, then there will be even fewer sources of information about a man who is very concerned about controlling the narrative.
Freedom of the press was explicitly guaranteed by our founders. And along with it the right of free expression and the right to dissent. This was such a strong foundational principle that it was codified within the first 10 amendments to our constitution – what we refer to as the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, adopted in 1791, states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
In the words of Harry S Truman, 33rd President of the United States:
“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
I’d like to hope that we haven’t begun following that path, but I fear that we may have. It is up to all of us to help make sure that we stay on the path of freedom and openness by paying attention and speaking out (and writing).