The media is to blame. That is the cry of the autocrat, the dictator and the shifty politician.
I have heard variations of it since I started in the newspaper business at the age of 16. The “media” is more now more frequently used than the “press,” which was the old term.
I have heard it from crooks, con artists, egomaniacs, communists, fascists, anti-Semites, ethnic butchers and madmen.
I heard it in person from Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the brutal Chilean dictator, in Santiago and from Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the last Communist leader of Poland, in Warsaw. I heard it in person from the defenders of Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean tyrant, and I heard it from the lips of Kenneth Kaunda, who sent Zambia down the wrong track. I heard it in person from the sycophants around Cuban strongman Fidel Castro.
In Washington, I heard it from cabinet officers, congressmen, chief executive officers, contractors and lobbyists, innumerable military contractors when I was publisher of The Energy Daily and Defense Week.
Now I am hearing it from President Donald Trump. He is attacking the media, using a term – the enemy of the people – that I have only heard from dictators. Trump is attacking the very basis of all freedom: the freedom of the press. That is the freedom to find the news and publish it.
When the president attacks the media he immediately makes the gathering of the news more difficult. Those who want to brush us off, lie to us, subvert our work, endanger our income and our lives are emboldened.
Worse, the work itself is brought into doubt.
Truth is the victim: If lies can pass as fact, truth is in the gutter and the body politic is in trouble. Look to Germany in the 1930s, Cuba in totalitarian maw, the Soviet Union and its satellites under Communism’s yoke. Look to Venezuela today. Where evil is afoot, the media is silenced or subverted.
Against this, the editorial board of The Boston Globe has persuaded more than 100 newspapers to respond to Trump’s “enemy of the people” rhetoric on Aug. 16.
The thought is powerful and right, but the tactic is wrong. In showing a united front to the White House, The Globe and its allies validate the White House myth that the media is united against the people.
The media is united in only one thing: doing its job. It is not in any way monolithic. To suggest that we a monolith is to suggest, as Trump does, that there is a media hegemon with a common purpose. There is not.
We are a calling of irregulars, from the smallest newsletter to the great urban newspapers and from the podcaster to the star-heavy television networks. That is our strength; the diversity that makes us a cast of tens of thousands with individual parts.
Dan Raviv, then with CBS Radio, told me in a few words what is involved, “I like to find out what’s going on and tell people.” He nailed this job.
Yes, we make mistakes. Yes, we can be arrogant. Yes, we can be an embarrassment. Yes, some insert opinions when they should not. I still cringe at things I have gotten wrong, going back decades. At best, our mistakes keep us humble.
I would suggest that those who think we are the enemies of the people – a preposterous idea — just remember that everything they know, with infinitesimal exception, was brought to them by journalists; journalists covering the White House, journalists writing about government, business, foreign affairs, science and wars. Individuals trying to find out what is going on from Moscow to Beijing and, when we can, Pyongyang.
When the courts have failed, the politicians have let all down, and justice is in danger, drop a dime. Call a reporter: the appellate court of last resort.
You do not call the media, you call a reporter. That individuality is our ultimate strength — and the public’s last, very last, line of defense.