Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks with reporters on Aug. 29, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP)
Free elections and a free press are the foundation of democracy.
Given the constant attacks by President Donald Trump on journalists — he has called us the “enemy of the American people” and “dangerous and sick” — we’re joining the Boston Globe and other newspapers in publishing editorials today in a coordinated response to this attempt to undermine the press.
Free elections and a free press are the foundation of democracy. Take away the independent press and we lose the possibility of a society where citizens have a chance to make informed decisions and shape government policy to their benefit.
Our form of government was designed to prevent one person, or a small circle of oligarchs, from grabbing too much power. Unfortunately the checks and balances placed in the Constitution as the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government have been manipulated and corrupted by wealthy individuals like the Koch brothers.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission allowed corporations and unions to spend as much money as they want supporting or attacking candidates in elections. Citizens United gives carte blanche to the few with the deepest pockets to dominate, deceive and exploit everyone else.
The court’s 2010 ruling opened the flood gates on super-PACs and their massive contributions to candidates, no matter the detrimental effect on the environment or the financial well-being and health of average Americans. The pharmaceutical industry currently spends the most on lobbyists, which may explain why the opioid epidemic that started with deceptive marketing of opiate-based painkillers in the 1990s continues to this day.
Donald Trump’s assault on the press is nothing more than another power grab. By removing the power of knowledge from citizens, he and his cronies can do whatever they please. His schemes to control information are positively Orwellian. The phase “climate change,” for example, was scrubbed from much of the Environmental Protection Agency’s website last year.
Anyone who thinks this administration — or any administration, national or local — doesn’t need the independent watchdog function of the press has not been reading newspapers. Trump’s attacks are coming at the worst time for an industry already under siege. Broadcast and print news operations have been financially eviscerated by the internet — and by the deliberate strategy of Google and Facebook to destroy newspapers’ advertising revenue base.
A 2015 study by the Pew Research Center found 63 percent of Twitter and Facebook users get their news from those platforms. And that news isn’t all coming from professional journalists who are ethically bound to remain neutral news gatherers. If the Banner prints something that is provably false, we can be sued. More important, we lose the trust of our readers.
But social media pages and anonymous bloggers don’t have to play by the same rules. Posts on Facebook can be juicy, entertaining and completely false.
As we now know, Russian trolls created hundreds of bogus social media accounts. Last year Facebook identified more than $100,000 worth of divisive ads on hot-button issues purchased by a Russian company linked to the Kremlin. Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, said the ads, which ran between June 2015 and May 2017, were related to some 470 fake Facebook accounts and pages.
Now that’s fake news. Even as news organizations’ stock prices plummet, the value of professional journalism has never been so high.