Local Commentary

Editorial: Trump’s Threat to A Free Press

The latest disgrace from the despicable Donald Trump has been to strip the Washington Post of its press credentials to cover his campaign events. It not only follows on similar bans against a dozen or so other, smaller news organizations, but it is in keeping with his earlier promise to, if elected, “open up libel laws” to make it easier for him to sue and win against news organizations who say things he doesn’t like.

It is hard to overstate how dangerous, from the standpoint of democratic institutions, this is. No one with an interest in democracy can stand idly by and either ignore, much less condone, this attitude and behavior on the part of anyone, much less a presumptive major party presidential nominee.

Trumps says his latest ban would not extend to the White House press corps if he became president. But don’t be so sure. There has always been a lot of discretion when it comes to media credentials for the White House press office, under both Democratic and Republican regimes. Only organizations with sufficient chops, and legal clout, can buck efforts by a hostile press office to effectively ice out a media rival. So, don’t think Trump won’t be in that game big time is he’s elected.

His exercise of media manipulation is at an entirely different level than anything we’ve seen before, because it is with open disdain and is a centerpiece of his popular appeal. In other words, the idea is that he’s bringing the American electorate along with him as he calls for arbitrary censorship and ripping up the First Amendment.

There is no single component of a democratic society that is more central than a free press. U.S. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson understood this when he wrote in our new republic’s earliest days, in a comment that this newspaper quoted in its very first edition 25 years ago, “If I had to choose between a nation without a government and a nation without newspapers, I’d sooner choose a nation without a government.”

We stand with the White House Correspondents Association, our editor being a member for 30 years, whose current president Carol Lee wrote in a press release issued Tuesday condemning Trump’s action against the Post, “Any nominee for the highest office in the country must respect the role of a free and adversarial press, not disown the principles of the First Amendment just because he or she does not like the tone of the content of their coverage.”

It’s time for the media to take this as a clarion call, to step up like the legendary Edward R. Murrow did as a CBS reporter to thwart Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s reign of terror in the early 1950s, to rip the demagogue’s facade off perhaps the worst man to ever win a major party presidential nomination in the history of the U.S.

Otherwise, democracy’s demise could be sealed by this November’s election.