“The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
– Finley Peter Dunne, journalist, Chicago Evening Post
AUGUST 2, 2018 – Journalism and free speech in America is under attack. Most disturbingly, the person leading the campaign is the president of the United States. Since he took office less than two years ago, he has ratcheted up his rhetoric against journalists, singling out newspapers and media outlets as the “enemy of the people.”
Many observers simply dismiss his words as campaign rhetoric – such as when he uses his Twitter pulpit to call the New York Times “failing,” or the Washington Post “fake news.”
Earlier this week he took to Twitter to promote a video of his supporters at a Florida campaign rally chanting “CNN sucks!” At a recent event in Kansas City, Missouri, Trump told the attendees not to “believe the crap that you see from these people, the fake news … just remember: what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
Save for the national TV anchors and hosts who earn seven figure salaries, journalism is a most unglamorous profession. Few enter the business with the intention of becoming wealthy – according to glassdoor.com, the average salary of a journalist is $46,000, and many earn less than $30,000 annually. The foundation of print journalism is accuracy, and most journalists spend their days on the phone or in the shadows of public institutions trying to reach sources to confirm facts. The profession is based on objectivity, and journalists hold themselves to a higher ethical standard than most other professionals. To maintain their neutrality, journalists do not accept gifts or free lunches or any other handouts that would compromise their independence. Journalists are the watchdogs of the government, and are often the first to report scandals or financial crimes before law enforcement.
This country’s Founding Fathers understood the importance of a free press when they adopted Amendment 1 of the Constitution: “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.”
It is time for Americans, and Jews, to revisit the Constitution, and understand the importance of a protected free press. Incessant attacks and vilifications of honest reporters can lead to violence. In January, a Michigan man was arrested after he allegedly threatened to shoot and kill all CNN employees over “fake news.”
In June, a man armed with a shotgun and smoke grenades burst into a Maryland newspaper and killed five Americans – four journalists and a salesperson.
It is time to lower the rhetoric and understand the importance of the working journalist. Without reporters, there will be no one to hold elected officials or influential industrialists responsible for their words and deeds. If journalism dies, then democracy will soon follow.