No, Mr. President

by William H. Freivogel

Opinion

No, Mr. President, it isn’t true that journalists “don’t like our country.” Our job is to hold our country and our president to the values of freedom, equality and diversity that make America special.

No, it isn’t true journalists are “liars” and “sick people” who write “fake news” and stir up “division” in the country. The news you call fake is real and the sharp divisions since Charlottesville are largely a product of your making. Think about last week’s unhinged press conference in Trump Tower.

No, journalists are not trying to “take back our history and our culture.” And exactly what is it about the culture of the Confederacy and the Old South that you want to celebrate? The treasonous attempt of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee to destroy the United States? The evil and bloody war to preserve the original sin of slavery? The post-war disenfranchisement, segregation and lynchings of African-Americans in carnival-like settings?

No, Mr. President, it isn’t okay to whip up the crowd to get them shouting at the press corps. Journalists have thick skins but it is beneath the office of president to lead your supporters in chants directed at the people who are the eyes and ears of the rest of the nation.

No, you haven’t accomplished more in seven months than any president in history, although your total number of misleading and false claims is a record, now topping 1,000. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/08/22/president-trumps-list-of-false-and-misleading-claims-tops-1000/?utm_term=.b71800c70e16

In one long, rambling speech to shouting supporters in Phoenix Tuesday night, Trump said all of these things in expanding on what has become a perpetual war against “the enemy of the people.”

CNN’s Sara Murray reported “most of the people at these rallies — even ones booing — treat it as a joke,” but added “there are some who treat Trump’s ‘fake news’ diatribes seriously.

“They believe it when Trump lies about the cameras being turned off. They harass reporters and photographers. Trump knows what he’s saying is false. People close to him know it puts journalists at risk just for doing their jobs. He does it anyway.”

Even though Trump has failed to pass signature legislation on health or tax or infrastructure, the seven months of his failed presidency have been remarkable for scandal and dysfunction.

Who would have guessed that by summer Trump would be attacking Sen. Mitch McConnell or that the Senate majority leader would be wondering out loud whether Trump’s presidency could survive the damage the commander-in-chief already had inflicted?

Who would have thought on Inauguration Day that Flynn, Priebus, Bannon, Spicer and Comey all would be gone?

Who would have thought the leaders of industry would resign from Trump’s White House panels because of the president’s failure of moral leadership after Charlottesville?

Who would have thought Robert Mueller would be special counsel delving deeply into the Russia investigation — an investigation that has upset Trump so much he tried to get the FBI director to drop it, tried to get intelligence chiefs to resist it, fired the FBI director over it, dictated the misleading cover story to conceal it and berated Sessions and McConnell for failing to protect him from it?

Mr. President, the press’s job is not to make the nation’s CEO look good. It’s to hold the president and other public officials to the nation’s laws, constitutional principles and core values. If the president makes mistakes, it’s the press’ job to alert the American people. If the other branches of government fail to check presidential abuses, it’s the press’ job to serve as a constitutional check by bringing the abuses to light.

Yes, the press wants to make American great again. Shining a light both on the president’s — or the nation’s — accomplishments and shortcomings is a journalist’s form of patriotism.

  • Libertys_Ghost

    But you can’t really claim, objectively, that “the press” covered the previous President with the same tenacity as the current. Take the recent NYT’s story regarding the unverifiable claims of the Alliance for Securing Democracy (run by such “great” democracy purveyors as Chertoff, Krystol and Morell LOL) at face value. Everything the group claims they base on secret evidence, and this is a crew of known liars. But the NYTs has no problem propagating their claims that Russia had some enormous amount of Twitter bots influencing the election somehow…though it’s never clear how that occurs really either. Nor especially how that would be more influential is “helping Trump” than the say the DNC and some journalists collusion to promote Trump in the first place seeing him as easy Hillary pickings as the DNC email scandal showed…but that’s evidence and there seems to be little need for evidence these days in the world of journalism when an accusation is against this President…like him or hate him. And search for any article specifically covering President Obama’s Admins attempts to covertly influence elections…or do we call this “election meddling” now I think…in Honduras, or Haiti, or Israel etc etc. Good luck finding the same interest…most of the time any interest at all. And we have evidence of the DNC itself working with journalists to “influence” the outcome of their own primaries…but what’s that worth? It appears to many of us that it’s not worth much unless it’s a story that hurts the winner of the last election.

    So lets consider this list…crafter by Glenn Greenwald recently…of the failed conspiracy theories promoted by the “journalist” class recently that have fallen apart and ask ourselves if there wasn’t just a little bit of over-exuberance shown (and lack of due diligence on the system of “journalism” with these press organizations) maybe…just maybe…for political reasons rather than “shining light” in some romanticized fairy-tale kind of way of dismissal.

    “The examples of such debacles when it comes to claims about Russia are too numerous to comprehensively chronicle. I wrote about this phenomenon many times and listed many of the examples, the last time in June when 3 CNN journalists “resigned” over a completely false story linking Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci to investigations into a Russian investment fund which the network was forced to retract:

    Remember that time the Washington Post claimed that Russia had hacked the U.S. electricity grid, causing politicians to denounce Putin for trying to deny heat to Americans in winter, only to have to issue multiple retractions because none of that ever happened? Or the time that the Post had to publish a massive editor’s note after its reporters made claims about Russian infiltration of the internet and spreading of “Fake News” based on an anonymous group’s McCarthyite blacklist that counted sites like the Drudge Report and various left-wing outlets as Kremlin agents?
    Or that time when Slate claimed that Trump had created a secret server with a Russian bank, all based on evidence that every other media outlet which looked at it were too embarrassed to get near? Or the time the Guardian was forced to retract its report by Ben Jacobs – which went viral – that casually asserted that WikiLeaks has a long relationship with the Kremlin? Or the time that Fortune retracted suggestions that RT had hacked into and taken over C-SPAN’s network? And then there’s the huge market that was created – led by leading Democrats – that blindly ingested every conspiratorial, unhinged claim about Russia churned out by an army of crazed conspiracists such as Louise Mensch and Claude “TrueFactsStated” Taylor?

    And now we have the Russia-hacked-the-voting-systems-of-21-states to add to this trash heap. Each time the stories go viral; each time they further shape the narrative; each time those who spread them say little to nothing when it is debunked.”

    This is really bad journalism and that it isn’t being talked about widely by those hoping to protect such an important institution is doing as much…if not more…than Trump’s wild tirades to his choir to diminish the integrity of a critical institution in our society among the great majority of rational people who appear to not be being represented by either of the extremes.

  • Bobbi Linkemer

    You are so welcome. I am a St. Louis writer and editor and have been following your impressive career since your days at the Post-Dispatch. I can’t begin to guess how many young journalists you have inspired and taught over the years. Nobody makes it in this business without a little help from people like you.

  • William H. Freivogel

    Thank you so much. I’d like to live up to the nice comment.

  • Bobbi Linkemer

    Dear Mr. Freivogel,
    Once again, you’ve nailed it. You are a journalist in the manner of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Christiane Amanpour, Diane Sawyer, Tom Brokaw, David Brinkley, and those of their ilk. Thanks you on behalf of those who remember when journalists were the giants of our time.