The masthead of the Washington Post says "Democracy dies in darkness."
That couldn't be more true.
Every United States president has had issues with the free press. That is how democracy works. That is how democracy has to work.
A press that turns a blind eye to questionable dealings by politicians is abdicating its duty. The duty of the press is to put the actions of presidents, senators, governors, mayors and even school board presidents under the microscope, not serve as the propaganda arm of any politician or party.
The president and the press should, by definition, have an adversarial relationship.
Even Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, had an ambivalent relationship with the media of the day.
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” Jefferson once said.
The third president was clear on the notion that the press and the president would never see eye-to-eye when he said, “No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is not free no one ever will.”
Of course, it’s easy to take the high road when you’re on the outside looking in. When the media published less than flattering things, Jefferson wasn’t above striking back. “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle,” he once said.
We understand the occasional frustration of the political class, even Jefferson. Yet, despite this lapse, it’s clear Jefferson understood the role of the press. The prying eyes of the media are the tools by which we maintain the very freedoms that are the pillars of the American experiment.
Unfortunately, Donald J. Trump neither understands the role of the media, nor the historical significance of the First Amendment.
His characterization of the press as the “enemy of the people” is wrong. It is dangerous and un-American. Every American citizen, whether Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian or politically agnostic, should be angered — not to mention worried — by this characterization.
The basic role of the media is to hold the politician’s feet to the fire.
That is done in a myriad of ways. In just the past year, The Southern Illinoisan has covered several major local stories that have shed light on governmental abuses, or protected the rights of the common man.
The Southern has led the charge in exposing graft and corruption in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, corruption that led to unbearable conditions for citizens living in public housing.
If the Southern doesn’t tell that story, who does?
Our reporting in the past year helped uncover dysfunction at the highest levels of Southern Illinois University’s administration. The Board of Trustees quickly took remedial action. Would that action have been taken so swiftly if not for the spotlight of the media?
This newspaper has advocated for coal miners when coal companies threatened to withhold pensions. We have told the stories of World War II veterans traveling to the nation’s capital on honor flights.
Mid-term elections are just over 60 days away. This newspaper will interview candidates for state-wide and national office in order to keep our readers as informed as possible.
Enemies of the people? Hardly.
Democracy is a messy business. Yet, newspapers, and the media at large, have helped minimize the mess for over 200 years. The Washington Post is absolutely correct, this system of government cannot thrive in the darkness. American citizens chart the course for our country in every election. It is vital that every vote cast is well-informed.
The president of the United States cannot be more wrong. Other elected leaders, citizens and members of the media need to sound the alarm at his rhetoric.
Enemies of the people? Hardly. Democracy could not have a better friend.