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FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 2016
BY BOB FRANKEN
“Oh goody,” you’re about to say sarcastically, “Still another media hack is going to write about Donald Trump’s attacks on a free press.” Well, yes, I’m going to do just that, because Trump is trying to shut down a facet of our democracy so fundamental that it is among the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution’s very first amendment -- even with, as Thomas Jefferson put it, the “agitation it produces.”
Trump is exceedingly agitated. Apparently, he has decided that such constitutional principles are suggestions, and not ironclad. So, if he doesn’t like the way he’s portrayed by journalists, he shuts them down, or attempts to. His latest target is The Washington Post. No longer, he decreed, will the newspaper’s reporters get the credentials necessary to get close access to his campaign. That’s because he didn’t approve when the Post characterized comments he made as suggesting President Barack Obama sympathized with Muslim extremism. Never mind that it was an accurate description of his innuendos after the Orlando, Florida, massacre. King Donald was not amused. So bye-bye, Washington Post.
Those of us in the media have not collectively done a great job covering this election, but it’s not because Donald Trump has been challenged unfairly; it’s because he and the others haven’t been challenged enough. Many complain that because his nonstop outlandish comments have made him such a ratings magnet, we have granted him unlimited access to publicity. Worst of all, we’ve let him spit out his moronic hatefulness without taking him on, without remembering that we are supposed to be every politician’s adversary.
Now there are those who recommend that we should respond to his dictates by boycotting him. Just don’t cover him, they say, and he’ll fade away. That’s exactly what we should not do. What we must begin to do is cover him aggressively, actually cover all the candidates that way.
CNN has begun to fact-check Trump as quickly as possible after he makes an assertion, or tells a lie. That’s a good start. It’s hard work, really tough, but we don’t do our job if we don’t offer that kind of context immediately, or as soon as possible.
We should do the same thing with each and every candidate. We should apply the “agitation” equally. In addition, we should ask hard questions as impolitely as necessary and demand answers, no matter how many names a candidate calls us. If he or she starts hiding from that, and us, then we should, at the first opportunity, report the questions we didn’t get answered.
We also should be harsh with those Republican leaders who repeatedly claim to be appalled at something Trump said, but continue to endorse him. They do so in the name of party unity, but a fair question is whether the well-being of the Republican Party overrides the well-being of our nation.
As for Hillary Clinton, we must pepper her with questions about her emails and demand without letting up that she explain her inconsistencies. Through all of this, we should get used to the idea that those whom we cover are going to despise us. In fact, we should embrace that. Meanwhile, the newspapers, in particular, should continue to present their investigations into the pasts of the candidates. The business practices of Donald Trump certainly are fertile ground. So, too, are the contributors to the Clinton Foundation. Were they appropriate?
Until now, we have largely surrendered our responsibilities to the profit motive. The result has been that our society’s largely ignored problems have been allowed to accumulate to the point where they are wearing down our country. Donald Trump may have done everyone a service by awakening media who have too long been in a daze. It’s not out of spite, but simply high time we start doing our job.
© 2016 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.