Last Friday, the president of the United States took to Twitter to run through his routine of bashing his enemies publicly.
This can include whichever businesses have recently caught his ire, Republicans who haven’t quite fallen in line or, most typically, “the media.”
This time, however, the president went as far to say “the media” is the enemy of the American people.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Apart from the ridiculousness that is labeling something as diverse and internally combative as all of American news media as a monolithic force whose sole purpose is to undermine America, we believe framing “the media” as a malevolent force does a horrendous disservice to those journalists who devote their lives to serving people.
Moreover, framing the media as an enemy of the American people serves only to obfuscate its true value to society, which can result in a citizenry that does not safeguard it as much as it ought to.
Many who devote their lives to careers in media do so in conjunction with a devotion toward finding and showing truth.
It’s the sort of devotion that leads journalists to risk themselves by exposing presidential scandals, injustices in the justice system and atrocities that are sometimes lost in the murky waters of war.
Even so, they are human, and so they carry biases.
Some do well to quell their biases and maintain objectivity. Some falter.
Those who falter should be criticized accordingly, but that shouldn’t mean slandering or attempting to discredit the media apparatus as a whole.
It’s possible to recognize the vital role a free press plays in a good society while holding that press accountable.
It doesn’t involve writing off media wholly or absorbing news from sources that only confirm your beliefs while labeling news that challenges your worldview as “fake.”
Our free press pushes people to open their minds to new ideas and, most importantly, to try to see things through the eyes of people whose lives differ from their own.
Its importance has been recognized since America’s founding, with Thomas Jefferson once writing, “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.”
The free press can, and often times does, help actualize progress.
Sometimes this takes place in the form of publicizing discomforting truths.
During the 1960s, staff at The Auburn Plainsman risked themselves when they criticized the University in an editorial for delaying desegregation efforts.
In response, a cross was burned in front of the author’s dorm, and the staff received calls expressing discontent because paper hadn’t reflected the beliefs of the students.
People can be notoriously stubborn and develop a taste for opinions that only align with their beliefs.
The free press serves as a gadfly that challenges our preconceived notions; it makes us question ourselves.
In doing so, it provides a vehicle with which we can make progress through self-examination.
The Plainsman, along with countless other local news outlets, works tirelessly to report community happenings — whether it be finding out how our tax dollars are being spent at city council, shedding light on issues like food insecurity or exposing the corruption that sometimes takes root in our politicians.
Journalists venture to the highest and lowest points of humanity and return, not always unharmed or alive, to tell the rest of us what they’ve found.
In doing so, they lift the voiceless and tear down those who would use their power for ill. “The media” is one of the pillars of a free society, and it ought to be regarded as such.
Forgetting that, or neglecting to hold the media accountable, will undermine society.