President Donald Trump has ramped up his feud with the media. Earlier this month, he called the news media, which he has taken to calling the “fake news media,” the “ enemy of the American people.” Last week, the White House barred some news outlets such as The New York Times and CNN from a briefing, while allowing outlets such as Breitbart and One America News Network, which are friendly to the administration, to attend.
Those in power and the reporters assigned to cover them have long had tumultuous relationships. President Barack Obama didn’t like the media either. But he, like American presidents before him, understood that journalists have a job to do, and more important, he understood they were not the “enemy.”
The Founding Fathers put free speech and press in the First Amendment. They believed it was that important.
It wasn’t long, however, before some of these same men were feuding with the press. Thomas Jefferson especially came to dislike the scrutiny of his personal life and critiques of his ideas, such as the Louisiana Purchase, which was heavily criticized.
But he maintained support for a media free of government constraints.
“Thomas Jefferson was as irritated with newspaper coverage as any public figure of his era,” Ken Paulson, president of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, told The Washington Post.
“But Jefferson also knew that our democracy could only flourish with a free press that would keep an eye on people in power and help protect our freedoms,” he added.
Trump isn’t likely to come to this conclusion any time soon.
Yet, the press must continue to “keep an eye on people in power,” at all levels of government. There is a lot to keep an eye on in Washington now.
Trump’s diatribes against the press are likely part of an effort to discredit reporting about his administration’s many problematic decisions and actions, from business conflicts of interest to potentially unconstitutional executive orders.
This weekend, it was revealed that the administration tried to intervene in an investigation into Russian involvement in the November election. Administration officials reached out to the FBI, intelligence community and members of Congress, including North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, asking them to discredit news accounts of Trump ties to Russia.
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that is currently investigating potential Russian involvement in the U.S. presidential election, expressed dismay about the apparent meddling by the Trump administration.
“This Committee must have credibility not only with our colleagues, but also with the American people — to whom we owe nothing less than a thorough, fair, and nonpartisan investigation — and I will have serious concerns if it seems that we are no longer able to proceed in this manner,” King said in a statement Sunday.
“For the public to have confidence in our findings, it is important that the Committee work in a completely bipartisan fashion and that we avoid any actions that might be perceived as compromising the integrity of our work,” Collins said in a statement Sunday. “It is also important that the Committee ultimately issue a public report on our findings.”
The American public wouldn’t know about this alleged meddling if the press had not learned about it and then reported it to the American public.
The public, while not entirely pleased with the results, appreciates the media fulfilling this government watchdog role. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released Feb. 22, 90 percent of American voters say it is “very important” or “somewhat important” “that the news media hold public officials accountable.” Half of these voters disapprove of the way the press is treating Trump. But 61 percent disapprove of the way Trump talks about the media.
Here’s the kicker: 52 percent of those polled trust the media “to tell you the truth about important issues.” Only 37 percent trust Trump to do the same.