By Horus Alas
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
“… In response to calls from several states for greater constitutional protection for individual liberties, the Bill of Rights lists specific prohibitions on governmental power,” according to the Bill of Rights Institute’s website.
It would be difficult for us nowadays to envision a society where we didn’t enjoy the civil protections granted to us by the Bill of Rights. Could we imagine our lives in the United States if the federal government told us what religion to practice, or censored our speech on a daily basis?
Life as we know it in American society is largely a result of the freedoms guaranteed by our Bill of Rights. Of those, arguably the most crucial are enshrined within the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from infringing upon citizens’ rights to free speech, expression, and assembly.
Since this country’s inception, an independent press has been one of the hallmarks of the American experiment. Andrew Jackson was deviled by Tennessee columnist Andrew Erwin, who wrote of Jackson’s participation in the slave trade and potential election to the presidency, “… ages would be insufficient to wipe away the foul stain from the annals of our republic.”
Anyone who enters the political arena in this country is subject to criticism from the press. This has been true since the 1820s, and remains true to this day.
The rationale for an independent press should be obvious; citizens vote in a democracy, and a democracy functions better when those citizens are informed about their decisions. One would imagine the average citizen might like to know if their candidate had a history of sexual misconduct, predatory businesses, or overt racism, for example.
The current occupant of our nation’s highest office is guilty of all of the above, and then some.
To name just a few of the scandals that have enveloped President Trump and his 10-month-old administration, we may note government officials staying in Trump-branded properties, the president’s spending an estimated $30 million in taxpayer funds traveling to those same properties and his alleged violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause by refusing to sell his global business holdings.
I’m able to articulate these potential wrongdoings on the president’s part due to an independent press that monitors, researches and reports on government activity. Journalists at The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and NPR have conducted analysis on the president’s activity and those of other government officials in the stories I’ve cited.
Their findings are then subject to fact-checking before being diffused to readers. In tandem, my analysis pieces incorporate their reporting, with sources for my claims just a click away by hyperlink. Any independent claims I make in these pieces are likewise subject to fact-checking by The Bloc’s editorial team, and are expected to be backed by independent, factual evidence.
You, the reader at the end of this chain of journalistic dissemination, are thus presented with a triple-distilled sequence of facts and observations on our society.
Why do we bother putting forth the effort to provide you with this information?
Because a well-informed society is far superior to an ignorant one. Because we can’t address the problems of our day and age without first understanding what they are. Because we’re confident knowledge can make us all better, more engaged individuals in the world we inhabit.
This is why we—as either professional or amateur members of the press—do what we do. Society may sometimes forget it, but this work is of paramount import. This is why the First Amendment guarantees a free and independent press.
As I trust most of you are aware, President Trump has received overwhelmingly negative coverage in the media. If his press coverage has been disastrous, it’s only because his administration has been more horrendous than we could imagine.
In response, Trump has called upon the Senate Intelligence Committee to censor the press, repeatedly attacked their credibility and autonomy, and in an unprecedented show of epistemic authoritarianism, referred to them as the ‘Enemy of the American People.’
Past presidents have had contentious relationships with their portrayal in the media. But never have they outright launched such virulent attacks on an institution so crucial to the American way of life. As citizens, we are free to think and express ourselves as we see fit. The press is an invaluable guarantor of those rights.
Trump isn’t entirely wrong; the deceitful scourge of “fake news” does exist.
But strangely enough, it mostly seems to come from far-right fringe outlets like Breitbart and Infowars. The independent fact-checking website Snopes has a handy list of verifiably-false claims published by both. These are at the same time the most pro-Trump media operations in circulation today.
Any president in Trump’s position would likely begrudge his relations with the press. They seem to hound him at every turn and misstep, and a word of commendation for him in the New York Times or Washington Post seems as unlikely as most students’ prospects of graduating college debt-free.
But if the press watch Trump like a hawk and tear him to shreds in their editorial columns, they do so because it’s their job.
Our role in society involves making sure our fellow citizens are well-informed, able participants in our republic. Part of that role entails scrutinizing the political figures who shape millions of people’s lives every day with their policy stances. President Trump is one such figure.
And insofar as he continues to govern in such a way that proves detrimental to our freedoms and our way of life, we will wage a furious and unrelenting war of words against him.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr account.
Horus Alas is a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.