This is not a personal exercise.
The responsibility of the Fourth Estate, in fact, necessitates a cold eye. It also requires a touch of humanity as it pertains to the common good. This is the vital atmosphere we seek – or that the discipline demands we seek – in our imperfect form of communion called democracy.
Part of democracy’s maintenance depends on those in government and those who write and report on government establishing trust with the public. It’s an independent endeavor, but undertaken with a tacit agreement of bettering the whole. Our goal is to give the citizens greater access and greater intelligence on substance so they can make better and more informed decisions about their franchise. After all, said Jefferson, “The only security of all is in a free press.”
President Donald Trump’s false premise of “fake news” aims to undermine freedom of thought, debate and democratic principles, the hallmarks of a despot. His behavior is dangerous and puts at risk not just the reputations but, most importantly, the lives of honest, hard-working journalists.
Now politics by definition derives from polis or people, and so inevitably gets personal.
But our greater dedication, whether it be in the media or in government, demands that we rise above the personal, remain conscious of that enduring goal of truth, and act according to a code of conduct. Civility is not a sign of weakness, as Kennedy said, but precisely that extraordinary – and fragile – privilege afforded by the sacrifices of our forbearers.
It gives us not the space to plot out rude and senseless personal attacks, and the freedom to abuse the common square with small spasms of self, but rather another enormous chance – even in our moments near despair amid the worst teetering of our social condition – to once again peaceably engage and reconnect to a nobler path.
Vital to the civil instrumentation of our republic, newspapers and what they stand for at their best are bigger than individual reporters, just as what the presidency symbolizes supersedes Mr. Trump.
This President did not singlehandedly make routinely personal and profane what should be an independent but finally common cause of gravitas, but his ongoing attack on the media – his tweet fits at CNN and The New York Times among others, in addition to nullifying the solemnity of his own elected position, can only ultimately add to the world’s rancor, insecurity and ugliness, and instead of appealing to the better angels of our nature as Lincoln once urged, further diminish the sacred trust of E Pluribus Unum.