News and Commentary

Jonathan Karl’s Monologue About Free Press Misses a Significant Point

Sunday, journalist Jonathan Karl guest-hosted ABC’s This Week. As the program came to a close, he offered some thoughts regarding President Donald Trump’s claim that the media is the “enemy of the American people.”

There’s been no shortage of outrage over the president’s statements on the press, but I’d like to close with a little perspective. There is nothing new about a President of the United States criticizing or even vilifying the press. Even Thomas Jefferson–the same Thomas Jefferson [who] wrote the Declaration of Independence, and ten years after that, wrote: “Our liberty depends on freedom of the press”–Even Thomas Jefferson, when he was a few years into his own presidency, was so upset with what was being written about his administration, that he flatly declared: “Nothing can now be believed that is seen in a newspaper.”

Teddy Roosevelt, who now is next to Jefferson on Mount Rushmore, once wrote: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand with the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” I couldn’t agree more, but I also know that T.R. wrote that nearly a decade after he left office. When he was in the White House, he coined the term “muckrakers” to denounce investigative journalists who he felt were so obsessed with the negative that they were missing the good in the world, including the good he was doing as president.

Such negativity in the press, Roosevelt said, “is one of the most potent forms of evil.” And that brings me to President Donald Trump, who has taken presidential criticism of the news media to yet another level. In a way, it surprised me. The Donald Trump I knew as a young reporter in New York was nothing if not media friendly. And for most of the past Republican primary, he was the most accessible major candidate. No one else was even close. At Thursday’s press conference, we saw flashes of that. 17 reporters called on, many that he knew would ask tough questions. But now, the president has declared the press “the enemy of the American people.”

I’ve reported in countries where leaders not only complain about a critical press, but also try to shut it down, throwing reporters in prison–or worse. I’ve seen my colleagues risk their lives, and with increasing frequency, lose their lives in the pursuit of the truth.

We are not about to stop doing our jobs because yet another president is unhappy with what he reads, or hears, or sees on TV news. There is a reason the Founders put freedom of the press in the very first amendment to the Constitution. As long as American democracy remains healthy, there will be reporters willing to pursue the truth, even if that means incurring the wrath of the most powerful person in the world.

A free press isn’t the enemy of America, it’s a big part of what makes America great.

Jonathan Karl is correct. Without a constitutionally protected free press, democracies fall prey to despotic leaders intent on controlling public perception by using state propaganda. Millions of people live in countries in which journalists are routinely imprisoned, tortured, or killed for daring to defy those in power.

Karl is also correct when he notes that Trump isn’t the first president to criticize the media.

However, missing from Karl’s monologue is a sense of proportion as it relates to distorted coverage of the president.

Donald Trump has certainly given the media a lot to work with. Through the presidential campaign, he flip-flopped on a multitude of important issues, told outright lies, and made egregious implications about other candidates. The media rightly excoriated him for his behavior.

On the other hand, members of the mainstream press have spun some pretty significant lies about President Trump, frequently misrepresenting his actions and policies. As recently as Friday, the Associated Press published a story in which they claimed the president was considering a proposal to “mobilize as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants.” The story, which was rife with major factual errors, trended on social media for hours.

Read Daily Wire‘s fact check of the Associated Press story here.

A free press is critical to the survival of our republic, but that press must also be fair. When the free press disregards objectivity, it becomes the moral equivalent of propagandistic state media.

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