By Donald Lambro
Andrews McMeel Syndication
President Donald Trump, who has been relentlessly criticized by the national news media, has declared them to be “the enemy of the people.”
That is an extraordinary statement from a president who owes his reality show celebrity to the nation’s media, especially coming from a man who, at a meeting with The New York Times during the 2016 campaign, said he had “great respect” for his hometown newspaper.
Not just great respect, he went on to say about the liberal Times, according to a transcript of the interview, but “tremendous respect. It’s very special.”
So when Trump recently asked to meet with Arthur “A.G.” Sulzberger, the 38-year-old publisher of the Times, his newspaper associates wondered what he was up to.
They got their answer when they saw Trump’s white-washed characterization of the July 20 meeting at the White House that bore little resemblance to what took place.
In what was described as “a polite but stern statement,” Sulzberger said, “I told the president directly that I thought his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous,” according to The Washington Post.
He warned the president that his blanket description of journalists as the “enemy of the people” was “contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.”
“The meeting was supposed to be off the record, but when the president violated this arrangement by tweeting about it, Sulzberger ‘pushed back hard with the president’ and made it clear that Trump’s ‘account of the meeting was inaccurate,’ says Dean Baquet, the Times’ executive editor,” the Post reported.
Candidate Trump made it a practice to encourage and foment anger toward the press during his campaign and has since continued that practice as president.
CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta said he was heckled at Trump’s Make America Great Again rally recently in Tampa, Fla.
The veteran newsman posted a video on Twitter from the rally that showed “the aggressive crowd shouting and flipping the bird at reporters and camera crews in the press pool. One bearded man was wearing a ‘F--- the Media’ T-shirt,” CNN reported.
“Just a sample of the sad scene we faced at the Trump rally in Tampa,” Acosta tweeted. “I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt. We should not treat our fellow Americans this way. The press is not the enemy.”
No one understood this more than our Founding Fathers, who embedded the unique importance of a vigilant press in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Enshrined in the First Amendment is the declaration that “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ...”
Writing in the National Gazette in 1791, James Madison, the father of our Constitution, said, “Whatever facilitates a general intercourse of sentiments, as ... a free press, and particularly a circulation of newspapers through the entire body of the people ... is favorable to liberty.”
Thomas Jefferson wrote that “the functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”
Writer George Orwell, whose literary work warned of an all-powerful dictatorial government, reminded us that “freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.”
When I was just starting out in journalism, still learning my craft as a UPI reporter in the state house in Hartford, Conn., I broke a story about how the governor was about to propose a tax hike.
When the story ran, the governor called the press into his office and berated all of us, saying he felt betrayed and could no longer trust reporters.
No one in the press reported this outrageous outburst, but I did a story on his remarks, criticizing reporters in the capital for their “incestuous” political relationship with the governor.
For months I was given the silent treatment by the entire press room, except for my counterpart in The Associated Press. Many years later, a former Hartford reporter from that time came up to me at a reception in Washington, and said, “Lambro, you were right.”
A vigilant, free press is critical to good government and a free society. The people who rage against the press are the real enemies of the people.
Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.