In the wake of a contentious election such as this one, it is not surprising that trust in the media continues to plummet. When it comes to criticizing the “liberal main stream media (MSM),” conservatives have been beating that drum for 40 years.
President-elect Donald Trump, a man who has always used the media in his best interest, has had a far more rocky relationship with the press as a politician.
“The Donald” has pulled no punches with the press during this campaign, and his more fervent supports have taken his criticism to heart. Journalists have found being near Trump can be a dangerous game, from former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields and her encounter with Corey Lewandowski, to anti-semitic threats toward Jewish reporters on Twitter or the trolling of the National Review’s David French. Just days before the election, one such supporter was pictured at a rally wearing a shirt that suggested lynching journalists.
Many supporters feel not only has the media focused unfairly on Trump’s past behavior, business failures and controversial things he said on the trail, they believe the press gave Hillary Clinton a free pass on issues such as Benghazi, Clinton Foundation dealings and her email server. In short, what the conservative movement has been saying all those years, the MSM is biased, actively trying to help a Clinton election.
This issue came to a head personally for me last week. When Mr. Trump made the traditional visit to the White House, his staff took the unprecedented move to buck protocol and bar a press pool from accompanying him. Seeing the alert from the Associated Press on my Twitter feed, I retweeted the story, which also posts it to my Facebook page.
Trump supporting friends were quick to hop on board, cheering the president-elect on for showing the media how it’s going to be for at least the next four years. I find that concerning.
Press access under President Obama was less than ideal, and I’d hate to see it get worse. Without the press, we are in the dark as to what the government is doing. Shutting the press out harms We, the People, so I demand press access, not as a journalist, but as a citizen. The role of the fourth estate in ensuring transparency in government is a cornerstone of what, dare I say it? Makes America great.
Nowhere is this more important than on the local level. In 25 years in newspapers, you see councils and school boards close meetings and pass controversial measures on the sly. It is the role of a strong local newspaper to hold those organizations accountable to the people they are elected to serve. That is one of the ideals that attracted me to the Fauquier Times, to be an advocate for the people of those communities.
Granted, the press has done its part to earn this perception. Reporters and editors sometimes get it wrong. The overreliance on suspect polling data this cycle is a prime example. Choices on how to approach stories and candidates can have a direct influence on what gets reported. But not for lack of trying to be fair and accurate. The idea of “objective” journalism is a recent one, and honestly, I don’t believe it can ever be fully accomplished. Bias has been and will always be part of reporting. We are raised a certain way, we have personal beliefs. Most importantly, we are human, with all the shortcomings that entails. We can try to keep bias in check, but it will creep in.
And newspapers have opinions. They have editorial boards. They take sides. They endorse candidates. Everyone has a position. Can we do better? Yes. We must always strive to be as free from bias as humanly possible. And that is the driving editorial philosophy of the Fauquier Times, straight down the middle and responsible to you, the reader.
And We, the People have a role to play in all this, too. We have a job as a consumer of news. We must vet what we take in for accuracy. I read stuff from all parts of the spectrum. Living in an echo chamber does nothing for me. I want my beliefs to be challenged, in the end, I may find I was wrong, or have a better understanding of what I believe. Now, television is another beast with its own issues. The 24-hour news cycle leaves a lot of dead air to be filled by opinion and punditry. But we know where they are coming from: MSNBC is left, FOX is right, CNN is... CNN. But you should know what you are getting when you tune in.
The Bill of Rights exists to protect us. And the First Amendment is just as important as the second, in that regard. Our founding fathers knew what they were doing. It was the press that first spread the word among the colonists of the rising movement against the crown. In the intervening years, the founders had their difficulties with the press, but they knew it was just as important as the freedom to worship and the right to assemble.
In the last few days stories have appeared saying the incoming administration will have a traditional press pool, heartening news indeed. I hope it sees a successful Trump presidency, because in that situation, we all win.
Chris Six is Managing Editor of the Fauquier Times. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @christophersix1