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article imageUS newspapers hit back at Trump, defend free press

By Rob Lever (AFP)     Aug 16, 2018 in World

US newspapers big and small hit back Thursday at President Donald Trump's relentless attacks on the news media, with a coordinated campaign of editorials highlighting the importance of a free press.

Leading the charge was The Boston Globe, which had issued an appeal for the drive accompanied by the hashtag #EnemyofNone that has been joined by more than 300 newspapers around the country.

"Today in the United States we have a president who has created a mantra that members of the media who do not blatantly support the policies of the current US administration are the 'enemy of the people,'" the Globe editorial said.

"This is one of the many lies that have been thrown out by this president, much like an old-time charlatan threw out 'magic' dust or water on a hopeful crowd," it added in a piece entitled "Journalists are not the Enemy."

The effort comes amid Trump's persistent claims that mainstream media outlets that publish articles critical of him are churning out "fake news."

The New York Times, a frequent target of Trump's criticism, ran a seven-paragraph editorial under a giant headline with all capital letters that read "A FREE PRESS NEEDS YOU."

"Insisting that truths you don’t like are 'fake news' is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. And calling journalists the 'enemy of the people' is dangerous, period," the Times wrote.

Other newspapers said Trump's attacks diminish the importance of journalists in their communities.

"For more than two centuries -- since the birth of our nation -- the press has served as a check on power, informing the American people about corruption and greed, triumphs and tragedies, grave mistakes and misdeeds and even ineptitude and dysfunction," wrote the Albuquerque Journal in New Mexico.

Iowa's Des Moines Register said, "The true enemies of the people -- and democracy -- are those who try to suffocate truth by vilifying and demonizing the messenger."

Trump doubled down on his criticism on Thursday in a fresh attack on the media.

"THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA IS THE OPPOSITION PARTY. It is very bad for our Great Country....BUT WE ARE WINNING!" the president wrote on Twitter.

- Cannot sit back -

A man walks past an advertising board reading "Trump calls media enemy of the people" on t...
A man walks past an advertising board reading "Trump calls media enemy of the people" on the sidelines of a meeting between US President and his Russian counterpart on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland

Free press advocates argue that Trump's attacks threaten the role of the news media as a check against abuse of power in government and imperil the constitutional First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press.

"I don't think the press can just sit back and take it, they need to make their case when the most powerful man in the world tries to undercut the First Amendment," said Ken Paulson, a former editor-in-chief of USA Today who heads the Newseum's First Amendment Center and is dean of communications at Middle Tennessee State University.

But Paulson questioned whether editorials would be effective.

"The people who read editorials don’t need to be convinced," he said. "They are not the ones trying to shout you down at presidential rallies."

The campaign also faces the potential for galvanizing supporters of the president around the notion that the media is out to get him.

Politico media writer Jack Shafer said the coordinated effort "is sure to backfire."

"It will provide Trump with the circumstantial evidence of the existence of a national press cabal that has been convened solely to opposes him," he said.

The San Francisco Chronicle said it would not join the effort because "it plays into Trump’s narrative that the media are aligned against him."

But the newspaper said it would "continue to speak out against this president’s war on the free press," doing it "in our own way, on our own timetable."

- Stakes too high -

Some critics of Donald Trump say his demonizing of the media may have created a climate of hostility...
Some critics of Donald Trump say his demonizing of the media may have created a climate of hostility that led to violence, such as shootings in Annapolis, Maryland

But media rights advocates say the stakes are too high to allow the president's claims to go unchecked.

Some say Trump's comments have incited threats against journalists covering his events, and may have created a climate of hostility that opened the door to violent attacks like a deadly one in June against the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland.

Trump's actions are also encouraging strongmen such as Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey to treat journalists like enemies, some newspapers said.

"The messages in today's newspapers are best read not as a drift toward war footing, but rather as a reminder that journalism is important work," wrote Pete Vernon in the Columbia Journalism Review.

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