President Donald Trump has repeatedly called the national media “fake news” and the “enemy of the American people.” This shocks, frightens and saddens me — not only as a journalism student, but as a young American.
Reporters and editors are not the enemy. Reporters and editors are not hell-bent on destroying America. Reporters and editors serve as watchdogs for the people. They make issues known to the public. They shine a light on things otherwise unknown. They serve as civil servants, with an altruistic drive to reveal the truth.
Do you consider the reporters of The Boston Globe who exposed the Catholic Church’s history of child sex abuse to be enemies of the people? Is The New York Times and other outlets who published the Pentagon Papers and exposed government lies the enemy? Perhaps our enemies are the reporters who exposed Harvey Weinstein, opening the floodgates for the #MeToo movement.
The only enemy of the people in any of these stories is the subject of the investigation. These journalists had the gall to stand up to the Catholic Church, the federal government and a Hollywood giant. These reporters and editors identified a problem, investigated it and told the public the truth about seemingly impenetrable institutions. These journalists are not the enemy.
Throughout my time at the Manship School of Mass Communication, my professors have ingrained the ethics and principles of journalism into my psyche. They’ve taught me to seek and report nothing but the truth, hold myself accountable when wrong and act independently, transparently and compassionately. I can only imagine that reporters working for some of the most well-respected outlets deemed “fake news” by Trump hold themselves to standards far beyond what I’ve learned.
Calling these journalists enemies of the American people marks an incredibly sad day for democracy. The Founding Fathers established the principle of a free press so that we would not fall rule to a tyrannical leader driven by falsehoods. Journalism is a pillar of democracy as much as the right to vote is. Look to countries with a history of suppressed or government-run media and tell me you’d rather their way.
Their way often includes capturing, jailing, torturing and murdering journalists who dare to critique their governments. Trump hasn’t shied away from encouraging violence against journalists, either. At a rally about a month ago, Trump praised Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte for assaulting a reporter when he was running for Congress last year.
“Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of — he’s my guy,” Trump said of Gianforte, who pleaded guilty.
Trump’s celebration of the assault of a journalist came only weeks after Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul . Khashoggi was a dissident and advocate who frequently critiqued the oppressive policies of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman . The CIA recently concluded that the Crown Prince ordered his murder.
Rather than demanding accountability and punishment, Trump claimed the CIA did not come to a conclusion, smiting an American intelligence agency, journalists around the world and the sanctity of the free press.
Frankly, it doesn’t matter if the Crown Prince ordered the murder or not. Khashoggi was murdered because he exemplified American journalistic practices on an international level. That is why, in this case, moral leadership must outweigh economic and personal benefit.
This debacle reminds me of southern journalists of the Civil Rights era including Ralph Emerson McGill, William Hodding Carter Jr. and Bill Minor . They wrote opinion columns taking the moral high ground, denouncing racism, speaking on behalf of the minority and sharing their unpopular opinions in the name of what they knew was right. They might have been considered enemies of those who wished to uphold the social order of white supremacy, but retrospect has a way of changing narratives.
No, Mr. President, the media is not the enemy of the American people. Reporters and editors fearlessly seek truth and courageously stand up to powerful entities for the American people. Fearless truth-seekers are only the enemies of those who do not wish to have their truths exposed.
James Smith is a 22-year-old mass communication senior from Grand Coteau, Louisiana.