Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has taken his already-poisonous relationship with the news media to another other level this week with his attacks on reporters at a press conference to discuss his donations to veterans’ charities. After threatening to “loosen libel laws” if elected and inciting crowds against specific reporters at rallies, Trump’s latest fusillade has motivated former CBS News anchor and broadcasting legend Dan Rather to sound the alarm in a lengthy Facebook post about the candidate’s behavior toward the press:
This is a dirty, nasty election. And it is only going to get worse. The reporters in the trenches need no lecture from me. They are walking through daily minefields, bracing themselves against winds of discontent whose effects no one can predict.
I know what it is like to sit in those seats and feel the scorn and even wrath of politicians of all political persuasions. Attacking the press for unfair coverage has long been a bipartisan pursuit. Sometimes it works. I am happy to say that more often it doesn’t. But Trump’s brand of vituperation is particularly personal and vicious. It carries with it the drumbeats of threatening violence. It cannot be left unanswered.
This is not about politics or policy. It’s about protecting our most cherished principles. The relationship between the press and the powerful they cover is by its very definition confrontational. That is how the Founding Fathers envisioned it, with noble clauses of protection enshrined in our Constitution.
Rather’s prescription for reporters preparing to live in a Trump world can be summed up in his famous, enigmatic sign-off: “Courage.”:
Good journalism–the kind that matters–requires reporters who won’t back up, back down, back away or turn around when faced with efforts to intimidate them. It also requires owners and other bosses with guts, who stand by and for their reporters when the heat is on.
I still believe the pen is mightier than the sword. And in these conflicted and troubled times, we should reward the bravery of the men and women not afraid to ask the hard questions of everyone in power. Our nation’s future depends on it.
Mark Twain once said “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel,” but Twain never imagined someone like Trump, who has an endless supply of free virtual ink that’s ironically being provided by the same people Twain was referencing.
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