Journalists need defense, not derision

The U.S. media is taking a beating, even as it struggles to survive.

 

The first half of my journalistic career was spent abroad, much of it in Cambodia, a Southeast Asian country reeling from decades of war and corruption. The country is run by elites under the patronage of Prime Minister Hun Sen, a strongman who has clung to power for nearly four decades through the brutal suppression of all who oppose him.

Hun Sen was a soldier in the Khmer Rouge, the communist guerillas who killed some 2 million of their countrymen, especially those they labeled “enemies of the people,” a term coined by Vladimir Lenin. Hun Sen’s rule is violent, but he is also a skilled demagogue who uses the media to ridicule opponents, subtly encouraging others to attack his foes. His people have thrown grenades into opposition rallies and murdered labor leaders, environmentalists and, yes, journalists — eight of them since 1994.

I have never lived in a scarier place, so you can imagine how I feel today hearing the president of the United States call American journalists the “enemies of the people.” Of Donald Trump’s many documented falsehoods, this is the most dangerous. And it has had real consequences. In June, a gunman walked into the Capital Gazette, in Annapolis, Maryland, and killed five people, four of them journalists. In October, an ardent Trump supporter mailed 13 bombs to critics of the president, two of them to CNN. Just as in Cambodia, we cannot ignore the political environment in which these attacks take place.

Brian Calvert, editor-in-chief
Brooke Warren/High Country News
The U.S. media is taking a beating, even as it struggles to survive in the age of the internet. Many local papers are folding, creating “news deserts” that further erode democratic processes. This issue, the last of the year, is dedicated to examining the impact of these deserts, while highlighting the stubborn media “blooms” that point the way toward a brighter future. We hope readers will be inspired to support good journalism and denounce attacks on the press, wherever they occur. At a time when the leader of the free world is undermining the press, journalists need defense, not derision.

The Founding Fathers understood the importance of journalism. Thomas Jefferson hoped for a republic “governed by reason and truth,” brought about by “the freedom of the press.” Because the press is “the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions,” he reasoned, it needs our protection. “A popular Government,” James Madison wrote, “without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both.” It is up to all of us to ensure that this prologue is never written, and to fight the true enemy of the people: attacks on truth itself.

Brian Calvert is the editor-in-chief of High Country News. Submit a letter to the editor

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