This editorial is about an important principle, not political partisanship.
But is such a premise even possible these days? Sadly, it’s a key question. In today’s hyper-divided ideological landscape, taking an elected official to task about his rhetoric on a specific issue is bound to be seen — on both sides — as taking sides.
We’re certainly not taking partisan sides, but this newspaper agrees with the spirit of a national effort today supporting the vital role of a free press in society — and, yes, condemning politicians’ ad hominem attacks on the media. This starts at the top, unfortunately.
“The slander of ‘fake news’ has become President Donald Trump’s most potent tool of abuse and incitement against the First Amendment, labeling journalists the ‘enemy of the American people’ and ‘dangerous and sick,’” observes Cindy Durham, executive director of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, who says the “dirty war on the free press must end.”
The Rappahannock News and its sister news outlets across Northern Virginia join today’s nationwide response drawing attention to the dangers of the president’s attacks on the press.
As Des Moines Register opinion editor Kathie Obradovich told Politico, it’s not “Attack Trump Day.” Rather, her newspaper is participating “because we think it’s vital for community newspapers to stand up for the importance to our democracy of independent journalism.”
We could not agree more. So today we join a variety of publications who are standing together in the common defense of the journalism profession and the critical role it plays in government for and by the people — a free and independent press, one of the most sacred principles enshrined in the Constitution.
President Trump’s tweets about “Fake news!” and saying what Americans are reading “is not really happening” have consequences. So does calling reporters “horrible, horrendous people.”
As the Grand Forks Herald notes, “some people believe the president and, unfortunately, the ugly rhetoric is sifting downward, settling even on small newspapers out here on the North Dakota prairie.” A scan of online comments on Virginia news sites show this phenomenon is, sadly, all too familiar here, too.
These broad-brushed attacks undermine the work of thousands of journalists reporting very real news — from our local community board meetings to the 4-H prize awarded to the kid next door. As humans, reporters make mistakes, but to sow distrust in an entire institution that’s an essential part of well-informed communities is dangerous to our republic.
From the White House on down, it is time to back off the vitriol. The press and its practitioners can — and at times should — be criticized. But a free press should be bolstered, not buffeted by incendiary attacks.