Calling journalists “the enemy of the people” is politically expedient but patently un-American

Today’s hyper-polarized, ideology-driven political culture makes it nearly impossible to question, criticize, praise or even simply analyze the words and actions of President Donald Trump without many readers leaping to conclusions about perceived bias and imagined ulterior motives.

As an organization that is primarily dedicated to local affairs and has endorsed both Republicans and Democrats for elected office, we ask you to momentarily put such reflexes aside and consider the dangers — both to democratic society and your own mind — of allowing someone who has power over you to dictate what and whom you can or cannot believe.

The president’s unrelenting campaign to destabilize, demonize and delegitimize the American free press may energize the most aggrieved among his fervent political base, but it’s a dangerous Machiavellian game that leaves nothing to believe in except power for its own sake. Repeatedly declaring journalists “the enemy of the people” utilizes tactics of the French Revolution’s bloody “reign of terror,” Nazi Germany, Maoist China and the Soviet Union to eliminate dissent and discourage free thought. There could be nothing more un-American.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” reads the foundational First Amendment to our Constitution.

The White House may not be asking Congress to abridge freedom of the press, but it is waging a dirty psychological war to erode public belief in press freedom. Last week the market research firm Ipsos released findings of a public poll that 26% of 1,003 Americans surveyed believe “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior,” including (but not exclusively) 43% of those who identify Republican — once a party that believed in reducing, not expanding, the reach of government.

While it may be easy to point the finger at Republicans for rewarding rather than rejecting Trump’s attacks on the press, to do so would ignore that Democrats and independents aren’t exactly leaping at the chance to defend it. Perhaps that’s because real journalism, even when it tilts a little to the left or right, holds the powerful accountable regardless of political ideology. Journalism is unlike any other business in that when no one’s happy it means you’re doing a good job.

But even the media — perhaps clinging too tightly to traditional values of objectivity, or afraid of alienating audiences and customers amid the industry’s unprecedented economic uncertainty — has failed to mount an adequate defense, choosing instead to breathlessly amplify a presidential Twitter account calling for our own demise. That’s why The Argonaut joins more than 100 news organizations across the country this week in answering the Boston Globe’s call to editorialize, in our own words, on behalf of the right to do our jobs.

The news media is far from perfect, but we ask you to choose media literacy — the ability to discern fact-based information from propaganda and “fake news” — over the cynical laziness of declaring all news fake unless it confirms pre-existing beliefs.

Please support your local newspaper, or at least speak out against those who would attempt to tear it down.