Column: Muzzling the press Is first step toward loss of our liberties

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register:

By Kathleen Parker

To sum up President Trump’s first month in office, he has exceeded everyone’s expectations.

To those who opposed him, he’s worse than expected. To those who supported him, he’s done exactly what he said he would do and more.

And everyone hates the media.

Regarding the observation that the media took Trump literally but not seriously, it would appear that we didn’t take him literally enough.

It bears saying, I suppose, that I’m not a Trump hater, as my ever-vigilant critics insist. I’d like to get on with things — but the right things, in the right ways. Of course, I want the president of the United States to be successful, but correctly. That is, constitutionally, cautiously and considerately. Overall, my hopes and goals for the nation are more or less the same as any other well-adjusted American’s, even if we may differ in the how.

Based on my mailbag, which is as good a barometer as any of how people are thinking, the greatest obstacle before us isn’t this president or that policy but our distrust of each other, especially the public’s toward the media. We scribblers have never been the most popular people on the block. On my first day of work, my editor told me, “If you want friends, you’re in the wrong business.” I’ve accepted that, but I can’t accept the perception — and the president’s mantra — that journalists are the enemy of the people. (Enemies of the people are much, much richer.)

For the record, I’m a paid opinion writer, so to those who write accusing me of being biased and opinionated, I say, stay strong. To the rest, setting aside the death threats and batches of truly revolting insult, I’m reading and taking it all in.

The overarching theme is that no matter what Trump does, he’ll never get a fair shake from me and my ilk. (Other letter writers, who will be receiving Christmas gifts this year, say thank you.) The president and his staff just need a little time to adjust, these readers implore. Give the man a break! He has a steep learning curve, after all. True, but this is precisely the problem for many veteran journalists, whose careers constitute the equivalent of several advanced degrees in public policy and government along with, cumulatively, several centuries of White House experience.

Me and my ilks, she wrote in a purposely ungrammatical way, get set in our ways, too, and have expectations of a certain level of knowledge, decorum and protocol. The Trump White House is overrun with amateurs and ideologues who are running the country like they’ve been up all night on bath salts.

It doesn’t seem to bother Trump’s supporters that he has hit a few snags — court rulings halting his travel restrictions; the dismissal or withdrawal of a top official here and there. Or that there seems to be an irregular relationship between Trump’s and Vladimir Putin’s “people.”

Maybe there was nothing much to the chats between short-lived national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russia’s ambassador. Maybe there was no collusion between Trump campaign aides during multiple communications with Russian operatives during the 2016 election.

But given (1) Trump’s solicitousness toward Putin, (2) the administration’s unwillingness to declaim moral equivalence between Russia and the U.S.; combined with (3) Trump’s campaign threat to rethink U.S. involvement with NATO — wouldn’t the media be derelict in their duty if they did not relentlessly scrutinize these issues and events?

There’s nothing “fake” about these reports. And though the media can be accused of vigorously pursuing such stories, even at the risk of appearing “negative,” isn’t this their job? Resistant as I am to the cheap comparison, can you imagine the Republican reaction if this same set of facts emerged during the first month of a Hillary Clinton administration — especially if Trump had won 3 million more votes?

If sometimes the media are wrong, professional mechanisms are in place for correction. People can have faith in this real fact. Not so a White House that doesn’t appear to believe in acknowledging mistakes, must less correcting them. The difference between these two is the difference between reliable sources and propaganda.

There’s room for improvement, and we in the media bear the burden of winning back reader trust. But those who would give Trump the benefit of the doubt — no matter what — should be willing at least to give responsible, proven journalists an open-minded reading and a fair hearing.

Remember, the enemies of freedom always silence the reporters first.

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