Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Thursday, September 20, 2018

Opinion: Supporting freedom of the press will make America great again

A response to the Trump administration's continued attacks on journalism

Opinion: Supporting freedom of the press will make America great again

Freedom. That is the pillar holding up America: the promise of the right to speak up, the right to express yourself and the right to uphold the truth. Freedom cannot exist without the media, and consequently, neither can democracy. A free press is what separates a democracy from tyranny, so in a time when the person who is meant to ensure that every American’s freedoms are not threatened says that journalists are “the enemy of the people,” we need to look at each other and ask, “how have we allowed our freedom to be taken away? Why are we allowing it?”

More than 300 news organizations across the U.S. are asking these questions and more in editorials published today as part of an effort by the Boston Globe to promote the freedom of the press. In its editorial, the Globe highlighted a poll showing that 48 percent of Republicans agree with President Donald Trump’s belief that the “news media is the enemy of the American people,” with 28 percent disagreeing. This is not about another wild tweet or misworded statement. People in power, especially elected leaders, have power over the people, but a good leader doesn’t use it as a brainwashing tactic to turn people on the press.

What this administration has shown is that criticism and exposing harsher truths will be met with punishment. Earlier this month, a Trump tweet roared about how the “fake news hates [Trump],” calling journalists “dangerous & sick.” The United States has set a standard that several countries have understood, if not looked up to, for years. The sudden and seemingly effective dismantling of the media’s credibility and the people’s trust in it not only has frightening effects in the U.S. but creates a ripple effect around the world.

CNN journalist Jim Acosta should not have to face a frenzy of crazed Trump supporters because he works for the “fake news.” People can disagree with his opinions, but they should not be enraged because he is doing his job. Megyn Kelly should not be publicly defamed via Twitter because she asked Trump, then a presidential candidate, hard questions about his derogatory comments about women.

People cannot and should not live in fear because they are doing their jobs. I should not be able to see parallels between the Trump administration’s criticisms of the press and government censorship in countries like India, another democratic country, where journalists face criminal cases and bullying for trying to hold the government accountable.

The Globe’s editorial noted that: “In the first 558 days of his presidency, Trump made 4,229 false or misleading claims, according to a list compiled by The Washington Post. Yet among Trump supporters, only 17 percent think that the administration regularly makes false claims. ‘Alternative facts’ have become de facto.”

For those of us living in a liberal bubble, as many American University students do while on campus, it is sometimes easy to look over these comments with a huff and a Facebook share. I was one of these people until I saw these statistics and spoke to people who are more conservative than me this past summer.

People will believe that journalists are the enemy if that is what we allow them to believe. As a journalism student and a member of The Eagle staff, which has covered issues and events that have rocked this campus to its core, I cannot imagine a world where our voices are silenced. So much of what I am writing feels as though it is a given, but if it was this obvious to everyone, the poll wouldn’t show 48 percent of an entire major political party agreeing with the president’s attacks on the press.

Those who are against the press, an issue that has been brought to the forefront of American politics in the past three years or so, do not want to look at themselves. Trump does not want to be confronted with his reality and neither do his supporters. But shifting the blame does not erase this reality. It does not erase the truth.

I know that journalists will not back down. Not at CNN, not at The Washington Post, or the New York Times or any other publication. I know that rising journalists will not back down, and the dedication and tenacity of my peers at The Eagle is proof of that.

But for trust to be restored, the first step is to talk to one another. To leave the liberal bubble and speak to Trump supporters and other conservative who have been brainwashed into thinking that this is normal. Educate them as to what an editorial piece is, what an op-ed is, and what a real news article is. Tell them the ways in which broadcast is different from print and how to notice the differences between commentary and reporting. If, after all that, they still agree that journalists are the enemy of the people, at least this person was given the resources to make that decision on their own.

Most of all, know who you are. Know the role that you play in society. You could decide to support journalism. You could decide to stay quiet. You could decide to help dismantle a centuries-old pillar of democracy. Ultimately it comes down to whether this American society values its freedoms, and those who help give it to them not in a battlefield but with a stroke of a pen.

Sonikka Loganathan is a senior in the School of Communication and a staff columnist for The Eagle.

sloganathan@theeagleonline.com


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