The repeated attacks that President Donald Trump makes on the news industry threaten an essential pillar of American democracy.
Journalists are often the first ones to recognize abuses at the hands of those in government. Making people aware of these serious issues helps keep public authorities in check.
This compels greater transparency on their part. It puts them on notice that constituents are watching what they do and will take appropriate action to curtail egregious behavior.
Trump, however, disdains having his many flaws and poor decisions brought to light because such disclosures may curtail his ambitions. So he falsely labels unfavorable press coverage as “fake news.”
The president wants his supporters to conclude that what they’re learning from media outlets isn’t real. Don’t trust your eyes and ears, he tells them: “Believe me!” Well, someone who has Trump’s history of lying can’t be taken at his word on this.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, electric light the most efficient policeman.” The numerous stories on how federal agents separated immigrant children from their parents at the Mexican/U.S. border serve as an excellent example of this. These accounts resulted in such an outcry from Americans that Trump administration officials felt pressured to change course.
Imagine if the president succeeded in significantly decreasing the journalism resources devoted to highlighting his administration’s policies. What could he get away with if people had to rely primarily on his chosen representatives to inform us of what they are doing?
Honest criticism of the news media is necessary to ensure we perform our jobs fairly. And journalism has its share of shortcomings that need to be overcome.
Stoking hatred against a crucial institution, though, does not serve our society well. Those who cheer the president’s campaign to delegitimize the news industry are hurting themselves along with us.
Shrinking newsrooms don’t merely benefit Trump. This trend rewards all those in government who find the prying eyes of nosy journalists inconvenient.
This not only denies taxpayers the information they need to make good decisions. It increases the costs of operating municipal governments because fewer reporters are looking over the shoulders of public officials.
A May 30 article published on CityLab.com states the following: “When local newspapers shut their doors, communities lose out. People and their stories can’t find coverage. Politicos take liberties when it’s nobody’s job to hold them accountable. What the public doesn’t know winds up hurting them. The city feels poorer, politically and culturally. According to a new working paper, local news deserts lose out financially, too. Cities where newspapers closed up shop saw increases in government costs as a result of the lack of scrutiny over local deals, say researchers who tracked the decline of local news outlets between 1996 and 2015. Disruptions in local news coverage are soon followed by higher long-term borrowing costs for cities. Costs for bonds can rise as much as 11 basis points after the closure of a local newspaper — a finding that can’t be attributed to other underlying economic conditions, the authors say. Those civic watchdogs make a difference to the bottom line.”
The ability of journalists to perform our constitutionally protected role has been thwarted over the past few decades. We who staff these newsrooms certainly deserve a good chunk of the blame for losing the confidence of our readers, viewers and listeners — and we must do better.
But for Trump to attempt to weaken this industry further is unacceptable. Unchallenged political power is the true enemy of the American people, not the news media seeking to shed light on it.
Americans must hold government officials accountable to preserve our republic, and they need accurate information to accomplish this. How will they thwart corruption if they don’t know it exists?
This editorial is part of a nationwide campaign coordinated by the Boston Globe to counter President Donald Trump’s attempts to undermine journalism by reminding Americans of how vital news organizations are in our society.