Guest Editorial: A free press is vital to democracy

Farmington Daily Times
Guest Editorial

Our reporters cover the news; the last thing they want is to be part of the news. At the Sun-News, we focus on Las Cruces and Doña Ana County, and let our colleagues at USA Today and The Associated Press handle the daily roar coming from our nation’s capital.

For those reasons, we have chosen not to comment on President Donald Trump’s escalating war of words against the free media – until now. Today we join with a national effort spearheaded by the Boston Globe to answer the unfounded smears and unprecedented attack on the free press. Ours will be one of dozens of editorials across the country today on this topic.

The mere fact that you are reading this in the Sun-News suggests that you already have an appreciation for the importance of a free press. You understand that, since our nation’s founding, citizens have relied on the media to keep them informed on what their government is doing in their name – even those things that government officials would rather you not know.

For that reason, there has always been a healthy tension between government leaders and the press. George Washington complained about “infamous scribblers.” Teddy Roosevelt lamented the “man who could look no way but downward with the muck-rake in his hand.” Spiro Agnew blasted the, “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

Trump isn’t the first leader to feel like he hasn’t gotten a fair shake from the press. The difference is that all of our previous leaders have had at least a begrudging respect for the importance of a free press. Our current president does not.

And so, instead of working to counter or explain negative stories, Trump simply dismisses them as “fake news.” Never happened. Who are you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?

At a recent speech before the VFW, the president told his supporters, “Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

Trump is operating from a well-worn playbook here. The world is filled with charismatic leaders who were able to convince their followers that only they possess the truth. Such despots have had a harder time rising to power in the United States precisely because of our free media.

President Trump has damaged the institution of the press freedom, but he will never defeat it. A free and unintimidated press is simply too vital to our democracy and too indispensable for its millions of residents for that to happen.

Today we join with editors and publishers throughout the nation to decry the current state of affairs and call for an end to the unprecedented attack against the free press.

But, we do so confident that even if our pleas go unheeded, which we fully expect to happen, our role will not be diminished. The noise will never replace the public’s appetite for the news.

And so we press on, giving our readers the information they need about local events and government proposals to be informed participants in our local democracy, and not paying much attention to the insults coming from Washington. 

Las Cruces Sun-News, Aug. 16