President Donald Trump’s strategic and determined effort to discredit an independent press continues, although 85 percent of Americans in a recent public opinion survey agree that “freedom of the press is essential for American democracy.”
However, a deep dive into the polling by Ipsos shows that Trump’s message might be gaining traction. Twenty-six percent agree that the president “should have the authority to close down news outlets engaged in bad behavior.” For those identifying themselves as Republicans, 43 percent say he should have that power.
To get a better understanding of the views of Long Island’s elected federal officials, the Newsday editorial board asked them to respond to two questions:
(1) Do you believe the press is “the enemy of the people”?
(2) Do you think the rhetoric used by the president is dangerous?
Their responses, which are unedited, provide an intriguing insight into their views of the role of the press in our political systems. Spoiler alert: While no one thinks the press is the enemy of the people, some elected officials had concerns about the flaws of the press in their day-to-day coverage. Some views are expansive and one is parochial.
Read them here:
Throughout history, the free press has always kept our government in check when it has gone astray, perhaps more than anywhere else around the world. We rely on reporters and newscasters to keep our leaders honest, accountable, and always working in the best interest of the American people. As Lyndon Johnson said, “An informed mind is the guardian genius of democracy.” That’s what good journalism does – it informs. It establishes facts. It sets the terms of debate. In that way, it is like a guardrail for our democracy – keeping us from swerving off the road and over the cliff. Though we live in troubling times, I truly believe that America always solves its problems. Combating dangerous and irresponsible attacks on journalism is no exception.
(1) Freedom of the press is an essential element of our democracy, and the attacks from the president on the press as an enemy of the people are disgraceful, wrong, and dangerous. Every elected official, including the president, must be held accountable to the public, and the press is an essential part of that process in informing and educating the public on what is happening behind closed doors in the corridors of power. American journalists, both at home and abroad, take life-threatening risks and make enormous sacrifices in pursuit of a greater good for the public. They deserve better than to be falsely maligned for doing their jobs.
(2) Our free press is protected by the First Amendment for a reason: It is a check on government power and corruption. That is why dictators around the world attack the press in their own countries, and that is why President Trump’s continued attacks on the press here are so disturbing. As a U.S. senator from New York, I will do all I can to oppose this dangerous rhetoric and protect the First Amendment.
(1) No. A free press has been essential to the maintenance of our democracy and keeping people informed. It is no wonder that free speech and a free press are enshrined in the First Amendment.
(2) There are a lot of fingers that could be pointed all over the place on this one. There are many exceptional journalists doing a very important and effective job to report the news without letting their personal biases overcome their fair, objective reporting. We must not only protect these individuals and entities but learn from and celebrate their exceptional work. That has become further from universal, though, with the ways many have monetized news dangerously and irresponsibly, and in certain respects have done so remarkably irresponsibly and dishonestly. It’s really hard to paint everyone with one broad brush. Like all occupations, there is a range from the exceptional to the horrible.
(1) While I do not believe the press is the enemy of the people, it is far too often horribly biased. The New York Times is certainly among the worst. In my own case, I have in previous years experienced severe distortion and bias from certain Newsday reporters and editors—which is why since 2006 I have not set foot in the Newsday building or met with the editorial board. I will talk to individual reporters and editors, but have little respect for Newsday as an institution.
(2) I believe the president goes too far but the media certainly do not have clean hands. It is ironic that the press, which is so quick to attack unfairly, is so sensitive and whining when attacks are returned. To say the press is “far from perfect” is the understatement of the year. Having said that, I will continue to take and answer reporters’ calls directly without putting you through the inconvenience of going through a press person unless you wish. You will always get fairness and honesty from my end.
(1) The press is not “the enemy of the people.” Quite the contrary, a “free press,” guided by ethics and standards, is essential to our democracy.
Unfortunately, the press today is under attack by the president, while at the same time it is also under extreme economic pressure. Additionally, some bloggers and social media writers who have never been formally educated in journalism and are not guided by any journalistic standards or ethics, often receive widespread attention despite inaccuracies, misreporting, outright falsehoods, and poor quality.
We need reporters to investigate, expose and report on every aspect of government and its elected officials so the public is aware of what is happening in their country, state, town and communities.
We need the press to do its job and to maintain high standards despite the pressure from antagonists, the economy, and competition from non-professionals. We also need news outlets to refrain from an agenda and instead report the news in a fair and balanced way.
As Benjamin Franklin said of our democracy, “It is a republic, if you can keep it.” To “keep” our democracy, we must have an educated, informed and engaged public. The free press has a central role in educating, informing and engaging the public. This duty cannot be taken lightly by members of the media, the public, or our elected officials, even the president, and must not only be protected, but encouraged.
(2) Some of the rhetoric coming from the president is dangerous because it divides people and threatens institutions that are essential to our democracy. We should refrain from responding in kind. Instead we must rely on our faith in the values of our nation enshrined in our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The First Amendment of the Constitution provided, “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of ... the press.” We must uphold this most basic principle and protect it and cannot respond with equally inflammatory rhetoric.
(1) I could not disagree more — our free press is the lifeblood of our democracy. Since the day our country was founded, the American people have relied on the press to speak truth to power, hold government accountable, uncover corruption, expose injustice, and most importantly, give a voice to the voiceless. Whether it’s a national outlet or a local weekly paper, the press has always been an unflinching ally to the American people. Our press works hard every day to uncover the truth and ask tough questions about important issues that affect millions of Americans. We need the press now more than ever.
(2) This rhetoric is extremely dangerous. It undermines our democracy and tarnishes our reputation abroad, especially among our allies who support a free press. This rhetoric also threatens the safety and security of journalists here in the United States and in countries across the world. And I’m particularly concerned that the president’s words have emboldened the repressive and violent tactics that so many authoritarian governments use to silence the press. We should be protecting and supporting the brave journalists who work tirelessly to expose the truth and advocate on behalf of their fellow citizens, not denigrating them at political rallies. Our president is abandoning that responsibility at the expense of our democracy, our values and the safety of journalists everywhere.
(1) A free and open press is a crucial and inextricable component of any thriving democratic society, and can, therefore, never be the enemy of the people. To suppress, threaten, or otherwise thwart the work of the press in a country like ours is to undermine democratic principles and liberty itself.
(2) It is deeply disappointing that President Trump uses dangerous and self-serving rhetoric toward the press as the world watches.