President’s attack on press is an attack on democracy

President Donald J. Trump’s dictatorial fantasies notwithstanding, a free – unfettered – press remains the cornerstone of America’s democracy.

But the president’s adoration of dictators, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, makes his persistent attacks on legitimate journalism more than just the musings of an untethered mind.

Here’s the problem: The occupant of the White House listens to his inner voice and to the minions whose obsequiousness is embarrassing, to say the least.

And what Trump hears are the words he has been hearing since he launched his campaign for president in the summer of 2015: The press is the enemy.

Unfortunately, there are millions of Americans who have bought into his claim that the mainstream press is out to get him and is, therefore, not to be trusted.

His denigration of the coverage of his administration as “fake news” has become a crowd-pleaser at his campaign-style rallies.

Trump has gone so far as to single out reporters corralled in the rear of the arenas and accuse them of lying about him. That, in turn, fuels the anger of his supporters.

It’s a short leap from their cursing and swearing at journalists to physically assaulting them.

President Trump’s attack on the press is both dangerous and unacceptable. It must not go unchallenged.

Today, newspapers around the country are speaking with one voice against his unrelenting assault on the First Amendment.

The coordinated editorial response is the brainchild of The Boston Globe.

In explaining the reason for the nationwide editorial campaign, Marjorie Pritchard, deputy managing editor of the editorial page, offered this unequivocal statement:

“We are not the enemy of the people.”

Ulterior motive

Trump’s portrayal of the news media as the “enemy of the people” is designed to delegitimize legitimate journalists and to spin the news in his favor.

That’s not what the Founders of this nation had in mind when they brought forth the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan said the rights of free speech and a free press articulated in the amendment embodies “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

Or, as the late Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black put it, “[no] country can live in freedom where its people can be made to suffer physically or financially for criticizing their government, its actions, or its officials.”

For a greater understanding of the First Amendment, read Robert Peck’s “An Unfettered Press – Constitutional Protection.” Peck is staff director of the American Bar Association Commission on Public Understanding About the Law. He is an author, editor, and lecturer on constitutional law.

This newspaper’s decision to join the nationwide editorial campaign – there was a front-page story Saturday announcing the effort – was greeted with cheers and jeers from our readers.

On the one hand, we were accused of being un-American for criticizing President Trump; on the other, there were those who applauded our taking a stand against his assault on the press.

We are pleased our readers care enough to respond, and we encourage a continuation of this debate.

On Oct. 17, 2017, in this space, we voiced concern about Trump’s unrelenting criticism of and threats against the media, and said they should give pause to every thoughtful American.

Almost a year has passed, and we’re still talking about his attempt to muzzle the press by suggesting that libel laws should be changed to make it easier for public officials to sue reporters.

He has also raised the specter of challenging the licenses of the television networks.

The national editorial campaign today is on behalf of the American people who believe in the sanctity of the First Amendment and the ability of journalists to freely do their jobs without fear of reprisal from leader of the free world.