National Commentary

‘Fearless and Fair’ Print Newspapers

While the Mueller team, New York and congressional investigators continue their arduous pursuit of money laundering, blackmail and other ties between Trump and the Russians, on another level there is the in-your-face evidence.

Few are willing to look at things like Trump’s move to end the Iran nuclear deal and continued assaults on cornerstone institutions of American democracy, like the press, as conclusive evidence in and of themselves.

Perhaps that’s because so many Republicans, evangelicals, alt-right loonies and like-minded sycophants are willing to go along with all this, thus providing the cover of being mere policy differences among folks who disagree.

But some of these Trump moves, and the Iran debacle can be counted among them, are so brazenly contrary to U.S. national interests that it is almost too easy to conclude that this is the work of a treasonous Russian agent. The U.S. is being systematically weakened, with respect to the alliances that have kept the west cohesive, and the American public’s respect for its core democratic protections. But the mood of perpetual paranoia and anger that Trump cultivates every day is allowing terrible things to happen to the foundations of our republic.

Trump’s threat this week to cancel the media passes for reporters covering the White House is only the latest abomination. It was heartening to see the president of the White House Correspondents Association rebound from her shameful apology for the humorist at the WHCA’s annual dinner last week with a sharp statement yesterday. Margaret Talev’s words read in full:

“Some may excuse the president’s inflammatory rhetoric about the media, but just because the president does not like news coverage does not make it fake. A free press must be able to report on the good, the bad, the momentous and the mundane, without fear or favor. And a president preventing a free and independent press from covering the workings of our republic would be an unconscionable assault on the First Amendment.”

I am personally heartened to see the phrase, “fear or favor,” included. In my Falls Church News-Press’ seven-point platform that I’ve had published on our editorial page in every edition for the last 27 years, the fourth point reads, “Publish the news that is public property without fear or favor of friend or foe.” My other favorite among the seven is, “Make the paper show a profit if you can, but above all, keep it clean, fearless and fair.” (To be honest, I lifted the seven points after they’d long been abandoned by my own hometown paper, the first I’d ever been paid to work for as a teenager. Those brilliant seven points were what we all at the paper once cut our teeth on.)

Legitimate news organizations are called on more than ever, in this era of “fake news” being sanctioned and practiced by the White House, to be “fearless” in the exercise of their indispensable First Amendment function in our democracy.

The key point is the subordination of profit to being “clean, fearless and fair,” and that is the key point in properly evaluating the desperate plight of newspapers in American culture today.

The Denver Post is the latest example, because its editorial staff has gone public in a brave appeal to fend off the cannibalistic appetites of its New York hedge fund owners to gut it beyond its viability as a newspaper.

But as much as those like Washington Post columnist David Von Drehle in his column this week, “After the Newspapers Are Gone,” suggest that the only hope for papers are “as philanthropic projects for billionaires,” there remains a desperate need for print newspapers as a way to keep an entire populace in touch with what’s going on, more than what any fractured segment may want to know.

A solution is to rip newspapers from the horny grip of greedy, amoral cruds, as in the case of Montreal’s La Presse, that is converting to non-profit status.

For local news, citizens in localities must act like vigilantes in defense of their democratic institutions and a free press, boot out the cruds, and lead public mobilizations to fund and operate print newspapers as a vital public service.


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at