Truth-seeking press not enemy despite what president claims

By Michael Smerconish

The next time you read about a newsroom making cuts, think about the extraordinary reporting shedding light on the new administration.

When I made that point in a tweet recently, it accumulated more than a thousand “likes.” Of course, it fell on deaf ears at the White House, where, two days later, @realDonaldTrump tweeted: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

The last time I checked, he had generated 154,693 likes, but it didn’t persuade me. Nor, apparently, the many who began using the hashtag #NotTheEnemy.

From literally day one — think crowd size at the inauguration — President Trump has used every opportunity to bash the “mainstream” media. Typical were his comments at that epic news conference:

“The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people — tremendous disservice. … The level of dishonesty is out of control.

“ … How does the press get this information that’s classified? … Because it’s an illegal process, and the press should be ashamed of themselves. But, more importantly, the people that gave out the information to the press should be ashamed of themselves. Really ashamed.”

The president is attacking one of our best checks on government — especially at a time when Congress shows no interest in playing that role with regard to the relationship between the president’s pals and Russia. His anger was precipitated by revelatory journalism that takes time and money, including:

CNN’s accurate report Jan. 12 that both President Barack Obama and the president-elect were briefed on “allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.”

David Ignatius’ Jan. 12 report in the Washington Post revealing that Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn had spoken with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak regarding the sanctions imposed by Obama.

And The New York Times’ front-page, above-the-fold story Feb. 15 revealing that Trump associates had ongoing dialogues with Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.

We know (what little) we know only because of old-fashioned, gumshoe reporting of the kind that is in short supply these days because of newsroom layoffs across the country. Sure, there’s been an explosion of self-described journalist bloggers, but people with laptops sitting in their PJ’s are no substitute for investigative reporters. We are seeing a damaging trend where there’s less investigative journalism and government goes unchecked. And not just on a national level. Think about some of the local stories uncovered by sleuthing.

Trump attempted to cloak himself in the words of a founding father while speaking at a rally recently in Florida. He quoted Thomas Jefferson as saying in 1807 that “nothing can be believed which is seen in a newspaper.” The full quote, which was contained in a letter to John Norvell, is more nuanced:

“It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more compleatly (sic) deprive the nation of its benefits, than is done by its abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”

Jefferson had grown more skeptical of the press while president. But 20 years prior, as U.S. minister to France, Jefferson said the following in a letter to Edward Carrington:

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

Michael Smerconish writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and is host of “Smerconish” on CNN. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.