Threatening Freedom of the Press

In our last post we explored how the press tried to lure Tiger Woods into giving them a sound bite critical of President Donald Trump and how Tiger avoided their trap. Instead he reminded them that the Office of the President deserves respect. But the press seemed not to notice, as the big names in media continued to publish stories critical of the president one after another. For this reason, President Trump has been critical of the press, frequently referring to them as “fake news.” This has generated a phalanx of fact checkers in the media. Most recently The Washington Post fact checked President Trump’s obviously hyperbolic claim that the hamburgers he bought for the Clemson football team were stacked “a mile high”. WaPo concluded that indeed the hamburgers could not possibly have totaled a mile high.  (Bump 2019) Seriously? This is reporting?

The President has also called out correspondents for being rude and disrespectful. At a White House press conference, CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked a series of questions liberally sprinkled with his personal opinions. Despite being ordered by the President to

“Put down the mic”, Acosta continued to argue with the President over whether the immigrant caravan was an invasion or not. He followed with questions about the Russia investigation. When a staffer attempted to retrieve the microphone, Acosta resisted her efforts. Acosta not only showed disrespect for the President, but also for other reporters who were waiting their turn. As a result, the White House pulled Acosta’s press pass. (Shaw 2018) (Payton 2018) Acosta’s credentials were subsequently restored by a (questionable) court order.

Acosta-Trump
(Ingersoll 2018)

“When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a ruler with discernment and knowledge maintains order.” (Proverbs 28:2)

Responding to the rudeness with which White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders is treated by the White House correspondents, the President has limited her availability to the press. “President Trump said Tuesday that he directed White House press secretary Sarah Sanders ‘not to bother’ with press briefings because he believes that reporters are rude to her and that most members of the media will not cover the administration fairly.” (J. Wagner 2019)

Sarah Sanders
(Enjeti 2018)

The press of course is outraged. How dare the President treat them like that! “Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents Association, said in a statement that the Trump administration’s move ‘sets a terrible precedent.’” (J. Wagner 2019) Having watched video of Sarah Sanders, we are of the opinion that she has suffered a great deal of abuse with a great deal of grace.

The press declares that President Trump is threatening freedom of the press. But is this accusation credible? The press certainly seems unfettered in reporting news critical of the President. In fact, a recent Pew poll found that media coverage of President Trump is 62% negative and only 5% positive. In contrast, coverage of President Obama was only 20% negative and 42% positive. President Bush’s coverage was 28% negative and 23% positive. (Kurtzleben 2017) Does this seem like balanced reporting, regardless of how one feels about President Trump? Does this look like the President is suppressing the Press?

“Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy.” (Proverbs 12:20)

obama-trump-media-hypocrisyThe Federalist Papers published a cartoon contrasting Presidents Trump and Obama on Freedom of the Press. (TFPP Writer 2018) The reason President Obama could do it on the “down low”, the article points out, is that the Press was largely uninterested in any of these events in which President Obama actually used the power of the federal government to intimidate reporters. President Trump’s Twitter comments, while they are sometimes objectionable, seem pale next to President Obama’s use of federal power.

“It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” (Proverbs 20:3)

I think the question that we should ask is “What do you mean by Freedom of the Press?” It appears that much (not all) of today’s media want the licentious freedom to report whatever they please: fact or falsehood, reality or myth, opinion, or feelings. But the reader will recall that the Founders viewed Liberty differently. In their view, Liberty includes a responsibility to govern one’s own behavior. The Founders viewed this self-governance as essential to achieving a balance between maximum freedom and the sin nature of man. That which discourages self-restraint and promotes irresponsibility breaks down the fragile civil fabric upon which Liberty depends.

“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.” (Romans 1:29)

From our discussion of the Mayflower Compact, we recall that the Separatists were keenly aware that contention and constant strife in an environment characterized by liberty, but with little self-government would promote tyranny, as one group sought to impose its will on another. (Barton, Cummings and Wubbels 2012) Clearly today’s Press is unwilling to exercise self-restraint, preferring irresponsible attacks on those with different views to reporting facts ethically and responsibly. Indeed, we would submit that the irresponsibility of today’s Press, the media’s refusal to govern itself, is an existential threat to the Freedom of the Press, and indeed to Liberty in general.

“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)

In our next post, we will continue this look at the Press by examining two recent events, one involving the President and the other involving a group of boys from a Catholic school in Kentucky.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

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