The greatest threat to the free press is an arrogant media establishment
There are numerous complaints being made these days that the Trump administration is a threat to the First Amendment, which protects a free press in the U.S.
The complaint is misdirected. It is true that President Trump has been repetitively critical of news coverage of him and his first days in office. It is also true that the White House press office has declined to provide total access to print and broadcast news outlets that it feels have been chronically unfair in their news reporting.
The historical fact is that since the very first days of the Republic, the press and the executive branch have been antagonists and persistent critics of each other. Every president criticizes some in the media. To suggest that President Trump is doing something new or improper is ludicrous.
At the same time, the role of the press has historically been to act as a check on the executive branch. This role declined until Watergate when the media played a key role in exposing wrongdoing emanating from the White House. The balance between fair news reporting and editorial comment and judgment soon again became unbalanced. U.S. media, which had earlier deliberately eschewed investigative journalism about Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, now felt they had license to alter the balance between the front page and the editorial page.
I have stressed consistently that editorial and opinion journalism is an important American activity and is strongly supported not only by the First Amendment, but by public interest. The essence of my recent criticism of many in the elite media, both on the left and right, is that they have consciously and deliberately blurred the separation between their obligation to provide fair news coverage and their right to hold and express any opinion about public officials and public policy. While I might not always agree, I defend the right, even the obligation, of editorial writers, pundits, and other political commentators to be critical of any politician – and that includes President Trump. I also defend and encourage the right and the obligation of the Democratic Party to be critical of Mr. Trump and his policies. Editorial criticism and political opposition are made in the public opinion marketplace where citizens can openly and freely judge them.
The front page, news columns, TV news programs, and news websites that purport to present "news" and not opinion are reasonably presumed by the public to be fair and factual. In the recent presidential campaign, I pointed out repeatedly that some in the elite media establishment, both liberal and conservative, had decided that there is no difference between news and opinion. They attempted, I wrote, a "media coup d'etat" against Mr. Trump. It not only failed, but backfired.
Now that Mr. Trump has been elected, the trespass on a credible free press continues by some in the media. Some of the worst offenders of this were formerly among the most respected and prestigious new outlets. They now, by their vendetta against Mr. Trump, have compromised their media integrity and no longer enjoy the respect and esteem they once held. It is not their editorial criticism of the new president that is the problem – such criticism is their right and obligation. It is instead their unbalanced and distorted news coverage that threatens a free press.
President Trump's first speech before Congress dispelled the biased and false narrative some in the establishment media have tried to peddle. Democrats and establishment Republicans are in outright denial if they do not see that Mr. Trump is transforming American politics by speaking to, and acting for, constituencies that previously were considered the "property" of the liberal party, including working-class and ethnic minority Americans of all backgrounds and economic levels.
This transformation was begun in the recent presidential election campaign, and it is refreshing that, having won the office, Mr. Trump is trying to match his deeds with his words.
How much this transformation will succeed is not yet at all clear. It has only begun and has many hurdles ahead. U.S. politics are not only complicated, but very difficult to change. When it does happen, it is rarely the work of a single personality, even a president. It happens because the voters make it happen.
The voter was always the true story of the 2016 election and why it happened the way it did. Many in the elite media actually believed that the election was about themselves and that voters would do as they were told. The media establishment not only misunderstood the country and their role, but did risk, and still risk, their most valuable asset: their credibility.
That is why they continue to endanger a truly free press.