Journalists know how much words matter. We know, too, that President Donald Trump’s references to us as the “enemy of the American People” are part of a cynical political strategy. But they also are very dangerous.
That is what Nazis called Jews. It’s how Joseph Stalin’s critics were marked for execution. Robespierre said the nation owes “nothing to the enemies of the people but death.”
In using such words, Trump has veered into dangerous territory inhabited most frequently by despots – not the elected leaders of democracies.
Our right to report, and your right to speak, are guaranteed under the First Amendment – the cornerstone of our Bill of Rights. Yet, Trump attacks this right repeatedly and in insidious ways – calling the media “fake” and “SICK!” and “very dishonest people.”
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Every reporter who has covered a Trump rally knows the threat conveyed during that now ritualized moment when he aims the attention of the crowd to reporters. That’s when the chanting begins, and the fist-shaking and the taunting. It’s the act of a bully urging others to be bullies, too.
Threats of violence toward reporters are worrisome. But it is Trump’s threats to the First Amendment – and the freedom it assures all American citizens – that concern us most. This isn’t just about reporters, who look into the actions of government and officials. This is about your right to seek out truth and then to speak it to those in power – without fear of reprisal.
When he calls valid reporting “fake news,” or when he alters video posted on the White House website to make himself look less obsequious, he is trying to blind his followers to truth. Believing in such “alternative facts” makes informed debate impossible.
That’s why nearly all of McClatchy’s 30 daily newspapers, which almost never speak with one voice, are doing so today. Though each newspaper is saying it in its own way, we are joining some 100 news organizations across the nation in telling this president to end his war of words against our free press and, by extension, against every American.
His threats at rallies, his ill-intentioned tweets, his daily stream of lies are an affront to the Constitution and dangerous to all Americans – not just the press. When President Trump threatens to eliminate First Amendment protections that courts have built into our libel laws, or when he suggests revoking the FCC licenses of broadcasters whose reporting he dislikes, he is attacking freedoms we all are guaranteed.
Donald Trump swore on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible to uphold the Constitution and the First Amendment’s guarantee that “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
Yet, some 44 percent of Republicans believe Trump should have the autocrat’s power to shut down news outlets who criticize him – showing how successful his efforts have been to demonize the media.
Trump dreams of being treated like an emperor, who cannot be questioned or criticized. No president will ever receive such treatment from an American press so long as it remains free.
Battle lines are clear, and every citizen has a stake. It’s time to realize Trump represents an existential threat – not to newspapers, but to shared American values. We, the people, have the right to speak our minds. Trump isn’t just menacing James Madison’s finest work, he is menacing what makes America a fortress of freedom.
If a leader convinces his followers that journalists are an “enemy of the American People,” whom will he target next? Your neighbors? Your family? You?
We will continue to report the news we find. It’s our jobs, whether thin-skinned politicians like it or not.