When Donald Trump came to Tulsa in January 2016 to campaign for the Republican nomination for President, I was one of dozens of journalists who descended on the Mabee Center to cover the appearance.
On one end of the arena was Trump’s stage, and somewhere in the middle there was a podium that had been set up for journalists. Trump was running late that day, so I got bored and hopped off the podium, thinking I would find a more interesting story out in the crowd than I would watching Trump rehash the things he’d said at his other stops.
I was a little unsure of what reaction I would get. Trump had already begun cranking up the anti-media vitriol at some of his previous events and his supporters here were expecting and waiting for similar taunts.
But for the most part it was fine. People wearing “lock her up” shirts said they liked Trump because he wasn’t Hillary Clinton. People wearing Trump’s signature red “Make America Great Again” hat said they liked him because he wasn’t a politician. Others said they wanted to vote for him because he would drain the swamp, or because he spoke his mind.
All in all it was pretty standard political rally fare.
Before long Trump arrived and began to rev up his supporters, using what had become his go-to slights against immigrants, liberals and fellow Republicans who had earned his disdain.
And then he began to criticize the media. I don’t remember exactly what the insult was, I’m not sure if he’d settled on his “enemy” remark yet or not. But I do remember him calling the media “totally dishonest people.”
Suddenly, standing in the crowd with a camera and a notepad, I felt pretty singled out. The same people who had smiled and politely told me why they supported Trump were now booing, jeering, and sticking their middle fingers in the air.
It had happened in an instant, which made me wonder what these people really thought about the media. Did they hate their local reporters or were they just doing a call and response to a politician they liked?
I don’t know the answer to that question.
But I do know what we can do in response to the President’s further attacks on journalists: The same thing we’ve been doing all along.
Every day we (and other journalists across the state) go out into our communities so we can report on stories that matter to you. It’s as simple as that.
What’s our agenda? To be a light in the darkness and to expose wrongdoing, corruption and deceit — ideals that everyone should support, no matter their political persuasion.
The Frontier is a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, a network of more than 170 independent news media, all nonprofit, nonpartisan, and dedicated to strengthening the sources of trusted news for thousands of communities.
Here is the editorial they shared today.
Today, the Institute for Nonprofit News joins journalists across the country in asking you, the public, to stand up for your rights to free speech and an open government.
This started as a campaign by the Boston Globe to ask the President of the United States to knock off attacking the news media. But the President’s attacks on the press aren’t ultimately about the press.
“The press” is just journalists who work as your eyes and ears in places you can’t be. The press is the people you send into rooms to witness what your government is doing and tell you about it.
Dictators and tyrants don’t want you in the room. Dictators throughout the course of history have tried to limit what their people know or create confusion about what is true. By sowing confusion or getting you to limit your information sources, dictators reap power and control.
Don’t be confused.
In the U.S., we are not a dictatorship. We are a democracy. A free, fact-based press was built right into the foundations of that when the First Amendment was adopted in 1791:
“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.”
Today, verbal and even physical attacks on media, police-state tactics and government secrecy are spreading with impunity throughout the country. In Denver and Milwaukee, police recently detained and harrassed nonprofit reporters and prevented them from doing their jobs. In Wausau, Wisconsin, officials routinely keep public documents out of the public’s hands — your hands. The same happens in East Lansing, San Diego, Oregon — and on and on. We hear reports month in month out, from the 170 nonprofit news media that are part of INN.
Attacks on nonprofit media are particularly cannibalistic. Nonprofit newsrooms are dedicated to public service. Their reporters and editors are public servants, with a mindset cops might find surprisingly close to their own. “Protect and serve” pretty well describes the motivations of most watchdog reporters.
It’s important to know that these attacks aren’t just launched against a national press, a liberal or conservative press, a commercial press.
They are against anyone who works to bring you fair, fact-based, objective accounts so that you have reliable information and can act on your constitutional rights — so that you can voice your stories, cast your votes, be informed, live freely and well.
Criticism of media is fine, and needed. But it’s different when government officials systematically tear down the free press because they don’t like the facts it reports. Then they are working to limit your ability to know what your government is doing.
Thirteen years after we adopted the First Amendment, Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Tyler, “No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”
We’re not going to shut up. We’re going to keep reporting so that you can read what you want, make your own judgments, and question a government that works for you. That’s the basis of our freedom, our economy, our way of life.
So don’t be faked out by claims of fake news. It’s out there, no doubt. But so are many more reliable news sources dedicated to reason and truth. Dozens of public service newsrooms that commit to high ethical standards are listed in the INN member directory. Or commit to your local newspaper, radio newscast, television broadcaster. If you think an outlet’s coverage is off-base, reach out and question it, contribute news and commentary, point out a mistake when they make one. Reporters and editors want to hear from you.
The “news media” isn’t some monolithic thing. It’s a voice of your community, and you can be part of it. We hope you will. Because a free press doesn’t belong to the President. It belongs to you.
– Sue Cross, executive director and CEO, Institute for Nonprofit News
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