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The People, The Press, The President: Breaking Down Walls

Donald Trump speaking at the 2013 political action conference in National Harbor, Maryland. ( Photo by Gage Skidmore)

With the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States last month, the relationship between the press, the people and the president is shaky at best.

Only 32 percent of Americans trust mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly,” based on a 2016 Gallup poll of 1,020 adults. This is the lowest rate in Gallup’s polling history.

Furthermore, President Donald Trump has consistently criticized and disparaged the press, to put it lightly. Journalists “are the most dishonest human beings on earth,” Trump said on his first full day in office.

At this time, when the president’s and the people’s distrust of the press runs rampant across the country, honest and unbiased journalism is more important than ever.

After all, where would we be without Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal, leading to the first resignation of a U.S. president? Or The Boston Globe’s 2002 Spotlight Team that exposed the cover-up of over 815 child sex-abuse cases by the Catholic Church, just in the Boston archdiocese?

Fixing this disparity is a daunting task, and impossible to accomplish individually. Still, an open, yet critical relationship between the press, the people and the president is worth fighting for. Since all sides must be held responsible for this wounded relationship, we, as student journalists at The Independent are studying to do our part in hopes of repairing the disconnect.

In many instances, journalists themselves have contributed to the problem. The rush to be first has led to irresponsibility and recklessness. Buzzfeed’s publication of an unsubstantiated intelligence report about Trump is a perfect example. More recently, a Time reporter erroneously tweeting that Trump removed a bust of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from the Oval Office, highlights the problem of assuming without investigating.

On another note, the word “media” or “journalism” encompasses much more than it used to. With the rise of social media, traditional news outlets such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are too often lumped together with websites like InfoWars.com, which has been proven to mix conspiracy theories with real news.

Alex Jones, who runs InfoWars.com, has propagated numerous conspiracies, from saying that the Sandy Hook massacre was “a giant hoax” to supporting Trump´s widely disproven claim that he won more votes than Hillary Clinton, “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

Furthermore, Facebook has been widely criticized for spreading fake news through the “Trending Topics” feature. Forty-four percent of U.S. adults get their news from Facebook, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey. The result is a concoction of stories that make it difficult to decipher the truth from opinion, or flat-out lies.

Trump has called the majority of news organizations “dishonest” and spreaders of “fake news.” However, one of the main propagators of fake news is Trump himself. Since the start of his presidential campaign, Trump has repeatedly fabricated news and used unreliable sources to back his claims.

We, the editorial board of The Independent at Clark College, believe that the reason Trump continuously bashes journalists is because the truth is inconvenient for him; the truth does not favor him.

By perpetuating the birther-ism conspiracy, claiming President Obama was foreign born, Trump connected with a base he needed to win. By arguing that “thousands” of New Jersey Muslims cheered as the World Trade Center collapsed, Trump fueled Islamophobia and gained support for banning Muslims from entering the U.S.

We could cite instance after instance of the outright lies Trump has said, but we’re afraid there wouldn’t be enough space on the page.

The relationship between the president and the press has often been poor, from President Nixon’s attempt to suppress the Pentagon Papers to President George W. Bush barring the publication of photos of coffins returning the bodies of U.S. soldiers and Marines from Iraq and Afghanistan to Obama´s use of social media to control his narrative.

Nonetheless, Trump’s public attacks and restricted access should alarm everyone.

We risk losing our grasp on a true democracy as a free press is one of the few certain tools we have to hold the president and the government accountable.

To heal this wounded relationship, there must be work by all sides. The president should not spread lies and disparage the press. Nor should he spout “alternative facts.” The press, as Carl Bernstein said, must get the “best obtainable version of the truth.”

Finally, the people – students, faculty, support staff, administrators and the general public —  must step outside of their comfort-bubble of news networks that serve only as an echo chamber of their own views.

If you are constantly checking Facebook or picking up your phone, make a habit of reading a couple articles a day from news sources with minimal partisan bias. Consider the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and the Columbian.

Vary and balance your news sources like your daily vitamins; don’t overdose on one source and neglect all others. Stay away from clickbait and sensational “news” because, just like junk food, it often lacks substance and credibility.

It essentially comes down to this: To make the best decisions in your life, you need to be informed. Ultimately, our future is at stake.

The Indy Editorial Board
Ieva Braciulyte — Editor-in-Chief
Sandra Maszak — Managing Editor
Benji Grundner — News Editor
Elliott Lang — Online Editor
Steven Mitchell — Advertising Manager

About Ieva Bračiulytė (16 Articles)
Editor-in-chief for The Independent, Clark College´s student-run publication.

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