Defending right to shine light on Trump

An imperfect press is not the opposition and those in the firing line in the US should resist that categorisation

 

In some respects, these are dark days for heritage media organisations and some equally forthright digital news outlets as the crusade by US president Donald Trump to curtail robust journalism intensifies. The exclusion of CNN, the New York Times, Politico, the BBC, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian and BuzzFeed from a White House briefing is the latest crude attempt to curtail US media organisations and others with a global reach, which have challenged his chaotic form of government and the pedalling of untruths in response to facts the administration does not like.

On the same day that White House press secretary Sean Spicer handpicked a select group of reporters that included a number of conservative outlets friendly to Trump for an informal briefing, the president resumed his attack on “fakers” when he told the Conservative Political Action Conference: “I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news . . . They have no sources. They just make them up when there are none”.

These sinister developments happened to coincide with publication of a significant story by the Washington Post which is illustrative of the Trump administration’s autocratic style; the latter retaliates and propagandises when it doesn’t like stories that frequently reflect the best values and approach of good journalism. Headlined “White House sought to enlist key intelligence officials, lawmakers to counter Russia stories”, the article confirms calls were orchestrated by the White House, using key figures in Congress, after unsuccessful attempts to get senior FBI officials to speak with news organisations and dispute the accuracy of reports of alleged contacts between members of Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives. There are sources Mr Trump and every indication they are reliable and accurate.

Two months ago press secretary Spicer, in a panel discussion, insisted open access for the media is “what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship”. Four weeks into office, the balance has shifted a little closer to dictatorship.

The Washington Post has recently added the slogan “Democracy dies in darkness” to its digital masthead. It has since emerged that this is a favoured phrase of Watergate icon and reporter Bob Woodward. It is appropriate that it is an old mission statement because well-honed principles of journalism, that have served the public interest for a great many decades, still apply.

An imperfect press is not the opposition and those in the direct firing line in the US should resist that categorisation. Ideological positioning and outrage aside, well-sourced, verifiable journalism about matters of serious public interest remains the best bulwark to serve those who favour rule by democracy, to challenge those who don’t, and to shine light on bad government.

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