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FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, FEB. 21, 2017
BY BOB FRANKEN
THE INCOMPLETE ENEMIES LIST
My feelings are hurt. I’m not on President Donald Trump’s list of “enemies of the American people.” Here is his exact tweet:
“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!
1:48 PM - Feb 17, 2017”
I mean, what do I have to do to make the team? I’ve called him a know-nothing buffoon. I’ve condemned his abusive policies on immigration. My comments on his reaction to judges have dripped with scorn. I’ve ridiculed the ineptitude of both him and the people around him. Yet I’m not on the list of “FAKE NEWS media.” I am as big a “FAKE” as any of them. But nooooo, that badge of honor has been withheld from me.
Perhaps he simply forgot. I notice that The Washington Post is not in the rundown. And WashPo has poh-mouthed Donald Trump as much as any news organization. Is that it? Does he have a faulty memory? That’s debatable. On the one hand, Trump remembers slights in his life that date back to childhood. (What’s that? He’s still going through childhood at 70 years old? Perhaps, but let’s stay on point.) Yes, he holds grudges forever. But at the same time, he recalls events that never happened, like Muslims cheering right after 9/11. So maybe he’s delusional, or simply a liar. What a choice that is.
It’s difficult as a journalist -- even one who is being forgotten by our current president -- to know whether to dismiss this as amusing hyperbole or cheap-shot demagoguery, or to take it seriously. “I think you should take it seriously,” said Reince Priebus, White House chief of staff and chief sycophant, on CBS. Well, there’s a clue. Another one comes from the Trumpster himself: “We have to talk about it. We have to find out what’s going on because the press, honestly, is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.”
The implication is that he wants to control media. Maybe a new Sedition Act if he can get Congress to go along, or perhaps an executive order. To many, it raises concerns about an authoritarian approach to news outlets that dare to report in ways other than adulation.
Adam Schiff, a Democratic congressman who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, describes Trump’s words as “something that you hear tin-pot dictators say when they want to control all of the information.” John McCain, Republican senator who constantly cultivates his image as an iconoclast, was not bothering with subtlety: “If you want to preserve -- I’m very serious now -- if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press, and without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”
Like nearly everyone in politics, McCain has a love-hate relationship with journalists. But like some in politics, or maybe just a few, he recognizes that in order to have the informed electorate that makes a free society work, we require the aggressive media, even adversarial media, shining a harsh light on the propaganda that these same politicians use to get their way and to prosper. We need to accept that being unpopular goes with our job, because we’re uncovering bitter reality instead of offering reassuring platitudes. We need to embrace that unpopularity. Trump is not the first to label us “enemies.”
I’m not on his list, but I’m a proud enemy -- and not of America, as he charges. We are enemies of the lies and inappropriate actions of any leader who would damage our country. Those of us who care about what we do see that as a way to serve our nation, and protect against those in power here who often are the real enemies of America.
© 2017 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.