The news media aren’t perfect, to be sure, but now, as never before, they’re the living embodiment of Thomas Jefferson’s opinion that “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.” If it weren’t for pressure from coverage in newspapers, TV, cable and social media, Donald Trump would still have duplicitous National Security Director Michael Flynn overseeing our national security concerns. This, at a time when North Korea is firing off nuclear missiles, Russian is tampering with our elections, bombing insurgent forces and civilians in Syria, and turning up the heat on the Ukraine, and terrorism threatens the home front. Writer Nick Kristof reminds us of how, in 1974, Richard Nixon said Watergate “would have been a blip” if it weren’t for journalists “who hate my guts.”
If it weren’t for media coverage, repulsive billionaire restaurateur and serial labor law violator Andrew Puzder would be Labor Secretary and Congress might not get pushed, however reluctantly, into examining potential wrongdoing by an autocratic, ignorant, and chaotic Trump administration, which, without push-back, would be running even more roughshod over our democracy. The Washington Post, CNN and the New York Times deserve credit for taking the lead.
Jefferson believed that power resides in the people, who, though they might go astray, would eventually self-correct, especially if they were given full and accurate information. The responsibility to provide that plays out even in local weeklies. Take, for example, the case of the Newton TAB, dropped every Wednesday for free at the end of driveways in this suburb of 82,000 people.
But for an anonymous letter a year ago, two disturbing anti-Semitic incidents at Day Junior High School four months earlier would never have come to light. School administrators failed to respond appropriately. Finally, an outside investigation was held, and a highly redacted report was released. The TAB repeatedly called for more public access to the report’s contents, repeatedly pressing its case with the Public Records Division of the Secretary of State’s office. It took nearly a year for what should have been made public to be exposed to the light of day. The public had a right to know, and the press played its role in fulfilling that right.
The Mayor has just called for a review of how the School Committee responds to civil rights laws and handles such requests for information. Setti Warren, considering a run for governor, readily criticizes Governor Charlie Baker and (less readily) the legislature for lack of transparency. He clearly understands that transparency begins at home. Thank you to the local paper for keeping the need for transparency on the front burner.
Jefferson was not without doubts about whether all citizens had the intellectual capacity to make the right decision, even with the right information provided by the press and by our educational institutions. And he never anticipated an era of social media and false news about the American election created by Macedonian teenagers getting money from stories they made up as “clickbait.” Or, forget Macedonia. Jefferson could not have anticipated the viral thrust of fake news on Facebook.
It was so powerful that even today our Putin sock puppet President can stand up at a press conference and lament the treatment of Michael Flynn as illegal leaks and fake news perpetuated by the hated intelligence community and lying media. But more and more, especially as the traditional print and electronic media have reasserted themselves, the American people are getting onto him. Our national nightmare won’t soon be over, but at least people are waking up to who Donald Trump is and the threat he represents. Now the media must meet the challenge of simultaneously exposing what Congress and federal agencies, in the midst of the daily Trump distractions, is systematically doing to reverse the economic and environmental protections put into effect over decades.
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