At the outset of Donald Trump’s presidency, our State Journal editorial board urged him to reengage with the reporters and editors who regularly cover his White House and administration.
“You shouldn’t view the press as an annoyance or enemy,” we wrote on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2017. “We are the most effective way you can communicate with citizens. That’s because your words and proposals will earn more trust and respect if they can withstand scrutiny.”
Needless to say, the president hasn’t taken our advice. He has only intensified his attacks on what he calls “fake news,” which is any coverage that isn’t fawning or deferential.
Trump disparaged the reporters covering his recent rally in Florida as “horrible, horrendous people.” And channeling authoritarian regimes going back to Stalin, Trump has incessantly tarred journalists as “the enemy of the people.”
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Trump’s ugly rhetoric against the free press is causing real damage to vital institutions, and it demands a response — something newspaper editorial boards across the nation are providing today, each in its own words.
By constantly trying to undermine the media’s important job of detailing and scrutinizing his presidency, Trump is harming democracy and further dividing a nation that badly needs more unity.
The press is a protector of the people, providing citizens with knowledge derived from the hard work of finding, checking and describing the facts of what’s going on, both officially and behind the scenes. We do so independently of government.
That doesn’t mean we always get it right. And in Washington, news outlets sometimes rely too much on anonymous sources. But when our newspaper and the nation’s many credible news organizations do make a mistake, we promptly publish a correction.
That’s a far cry from the president, who never admits his misstatements and falsehoods, of which there are many. According to the latest tally of nearly 600 statements made by the president and analyzed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning website PolitiFact.com, Trump has been false, mostly false or “pants on fire” wrong nearly 70 percent of the time. He’s been half true 15 percent of the time. Only 17 percent of his statements were true or mostly true.
No wonder the Republican president isn’t fond of reporters. He routinely gets his facts wrong, and the press dutifully documents the errors for readers.
Trump would greatly help his presidency and the nation if he spent less time tweeting insults and erroneous information to his followers and instead concentrated his attention on our nation’s many challenges, in consultation with his advisers.
Reporters may sometimes seem rude. They may ask sensitive or embarrassing questions.
But documenting and holding accountable the leader of the free world — as well as his opponents — is what the media is supposed to do. The president should not castigate the press for doing its job.