In defense of a free press

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.

More than 300 newspapers join Boston Globe effort on freedom of the press editorials

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  1. Thank you for publishing this editorial RappNews !! I commend your staff writers and all those who contribute to your effort to put forth excellent news ; job well done .

  2. This campaign is disingenuous, and shows what the problem is. There is no attack on a free press. There is attack on a dishonest press.
    I feel it in almost every paper I see. Things left out. Things squashed into a new shape. If you could get back in the truth business, there would not be a problem.

    PS I write about education all the time. I see the same problem in both media and public schools: the people in charge think they can shape facts and knowledge to fit their agenda. Bottom line, schools don’t teach facts and our media don’t report facts, not adequately.

    • You miss the point. Trump does not delineate between the specific news organizations he is calling fake news and which he isn’t. In fact, his language at best is intentionally vague so that he can claim his slurs are not directed at all journalists. But their effect is obvious. He effectively paints all journalists in the same broad terms.

      As for why things are left out, squished or not as detailed as you may like: More than half the journalism jobs in the nation have gone away in the last decade or 15 years. There are fewer people trying to do more work. What did you expect would happen? So now you’re going to criticize the ones who remain and are working their rears off just to keep their heads above water?

      This is WHY today’s effort is important. If you want a better press, support it! With more journalism jobs, there’s more opportunity to tell more stories and reach more people.

    • Bruce Deitrick Price, I could not have said it better. There is NO attack on FREEDOM of the Press! There has only been attacks on DISHONESTY of the press! When the press engulfs itself in purposely publishing dishonest and half-truths, betraying the American Citizens trust that they are receiving factual news… for the sake of a political agenda? They are no longer the “Press,” by all reasonable definition. The American Citizens must and should hold the press accountable to completely fallacious reporting. Because, when the Press becomes a political propaganda agency, they are no longer the Press, but the enemy of the people.

  3. This belief is foundational to our country and we all have a responsibility to ensure that we protect it.

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