President Joe Biden stood at the podium this weekend at the White House Correspondents Dinner and made a stern and steadfast declaration about the value of a free press.
“A free press is essential to a democratic society,” he said, “and it is not the enemy.”
I want to offer a brief endorsement of the president’s statement, as it reflects the kind of understanding that a free, aggressive and unfettered press brings to those in power and to those who make decisions that affect our lives each day.
I feel the need to offer this endorsement because of the pummeling the press has been taking during the past, oh, six or seven years. As a member of what the right wingers and the MAGA crowd calls the “mainstream media,” I have taken great personal offense at the epithets being hurled at hardworking, dedicated reporters who signed on to report truthfully and fairly.
Presidents of both political parties, with one notable exception, have understood the role that a free press plays in holding government officials accountable. Does anyone in power like negative reporting on his or her activities? Of course not! However, to a person — again, except one — acknowledge that criticism simply goes with the territory.
Donald J. Trump launched the war against the media with his proclamation that the media are “the enemy of the people.” He turned “fake news” into a cliche that his followers picked up. I won’t belabor the obvious hypocrisy in that label coming from the godfather of fake news and outright lies. I do, though, want to suggest that news that runs counter to officials’ point of view isn’t “fake”; it is the truth that officials just don’t always want to hear.
President Biden’s inherent understanding of the media’s role in keeping him and the government he inherited accountable for their actions is a welcome return to what has been the standard since the beginning of the Republic.
May the press always remain free of government interference … and able to keep our government’s feet to the fire.