A Grain of Saul: President Trump is wrong — journalism is the American people’s best friend
The American news media is every citizen’s most important ally against corruption and lies. And President Donald Trump saying otherwise is flat-out wrong.
It’s one thing to rebuke a story you don’t like. It’s another thing entirely to call the “news media” the “enemy of the American people.” But on Friday, President Trump did just that. Not only was it a broad-brush attack against “news media,” presumably all media that exists in the United States, but it was also an attack on specific outlets the president deemed “FAKE NEWS”: CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, and The New York Times.
That President Trump would include The New York Times is ironic and confusing, considering it was that very newspaper that broke the story on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. “Hillary’s emails,” as they became known, were at the crux of President Trump’s attacks on her during a campaign where he convinced his supporters she was a threat to national security.
Without question, that very story published by The New York Times helped propel Donald Trump to the presidency.
And now, months later, President Trump is calling the news media the enemy of the American people because those very same outlets are publishing damning and concerning leaks about Trump. Not only have those leaks proven to be real, but after weeks of calling them “fake news,” Trump has confirmed their authenticity:
“The leaks are absolutely real,” he said at a press conference last week. “The news is fake.”
For the American public, this is a revelation of enormous proportions.
“The leaks” President Trump verified and vilified are numerous: there have been reports of a tumultuous call with Australia and Mexico’s leaders, that the intelligence community is scared to give Trump full briefings, that the White House is in turmoil, that executive orders were being pushed hastily, that Steve Bannon was orchestrating legislation, and even that Trump himself spends good portions of his day watching cable television news for information and to judge the performance of his surrogates.
All this is vital information to the American public, and information we wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the tremendous journalists and the longstanding free press we enjoy in our country.
Not only that, but Trump himself was a huge fan of Wikileaks when it was publishing information about Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail — information Trump cheered and cited on a daily basis for months. Now, though, we are supposed to believe that leaks are bad? Or unfair?
Here’s the truth: traditional media outlets such as the ones Trump named — not partisan outlets that push hoaxes and mistruths like Breitbart or Infowars or The Daily Kos — are far more trustworthy than any public official, wealthy lobbyist or CEO who is invested in a particular politician or political party.
Any good journalist, even the ones who hold strong opinions about politicians and policy, are working tirelessly to identify the truth. As a young and aspiring journalist myself, it is the very people Trump declared “the enemy” who motivate me to be better at my job.
In fact, unlike politicians or President Trump, those journalists have their every word fact-checked and edited, scrutinized and analyzed, and eventually published in a way to make as clear and direct a point as possible. Journalists can lose their jobs for making a factual error, and at any real publication they are forced to include an update on that error in their work. On the contrary, politicians and President Trump have lied regularly to the public with little or no repercussions.
Even the idea that journalists would choose not to cover a story because it makes someone they prefer look bad — an idea President Trump has endorsed — is absurd. Do you really believe a reporter from The New York Times wouldn’t write a story about Hillary Clinton being involved in a child sex ring if there were a shred of evidence to prove it? Of course they would. That kind of story could define someone’s career and win them a room full of awards; it isn’t reported because it isn’t true.
In fact, the same New York Times journalist who broke the Clinton email server story — Michael S. Schmidt — also broke the story about Trump administration officials having contact with Russian officials before the election. If that doesn’t illustrate the power of the free press, what will?
Perhaps the names Trump left off his list of “fake news” media outlets that are the “enemy of the American people” tell a more important story. The Wall Street Journal and Fox News — the most circulated print paper and the most watched television news station, respectively — were noticeably absent. Could this be because those outlets are known to have a conservative slant?
Even so, prominent Fox News hosts were quick to condemn Trump’s comments. Christopher Wallace said he crossed “an important line” and told Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus on national television “you don’t get to tell us what to do.” Shepard Smith spoke directly to the president: “You call us fake news and put us down like children for asking questions on behalf of the American people.”
That last part is key: on behalf of the American people.
It isn’t regular citizens who get to sit inside the White House press briefing room and grill Donald Trump. It isn’t regular citizens who are leaked classified information from the intelligence community. It isn’t regular citizens who spend 16 hours a day reading about and covering government officials.
And day in and day out, those journalists work to inform the American people. Not just the people, but the courts, too. After all, work that investigative journalists do is frequently cited in courtrooms during major corruption scandals or on the senate floor during investigations and impeachment votes. Journalists’ stories have been the impetus for new policy, new laws, resignations, impeachments, firings, and even the talking points politicians use on the campaign trail.
Even in the case of Trump’s controversial executive order, his own answers to questions about wanting to ban Muslims and Rudy Giuliani’s comments on Fox News were used as evidence to help kill the order — evidence that would not have existed if it weren’t for the press.
What Donald Trump refuses to admit, and what the American public should never forget, is that journalists aren’t the enemy of the American people. They are the American people. They are the first and last line of defense against corrupt politicians, lying presidents, law-breaking corporations, cheating athletes, broken police departments, and so much more.
They are on the ground in Iraq, sleuthing in the halls of the White House, sifting through classified information, peppering public officials with questions, reporting from rural American towns, and telling it all to the American public.
For that, they deserve every American’s respect and admiration; including the president’s.
By A Plus’ ISAAC SAUL
A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.
You can follow Isaac Saul on Twitter at @Ike_Saul