EVANSTON, Ill., Aug. 20, 2018 – As President Donald Trump tweeted new criticism of the media, hundreds of newspapers published editorials Thursday morning championing freedom of the press, and the U.S Senate passed a resolution affirming that “the press is not the enemy of the people.”
Professors from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications say attacks on the media undermine the role of a free press in our democracy but say the media’s coordinated response is “heartening.”
Tim Franklin is senior associate dean and a professor at Medill: “Today’s coordinated editorial campaign by more than 300 newspapers is truly extraordinary, and it’s a reflection of the deeply rooted concern about the effects of President Trump’s persistent attacks on the news media. Labeling journalists as ‘the enemy of the American people’ and purveyors of ‘fake news’ undermines the essential role of a free press in a self-governed democracy. And, unfortunately, his words are emboldening political leaders, from city halls in the heartland to foreign capitals, to engage in similar attacks.
“Critics of today’s editorial campaign say this will only reinforce the narrative that the news media, especially national journalists, are stacked up against the president. But the fact that so many local news organizations participated in today’s editorial effort is hugely significant. People tend to have a higher degree of trust in their local news sources. These are journalists who live, work and serve their local communities. When hundreds of those news outlets simultaneously voice concern to citizens in their cities and towns, I think people will take notice of the importance of the stakes for a free press and our democratic society.”
Charles Whitaker is interim dean of Medill and the Helen Gurley Brown Professor. Whitaker is the former director of the Academy for Alternative Journalism, which trained young writers to address the field’s lack of diversity. Whitaker also is the author of four statistical analyses of the hiring of women and minorities in the magazine industry and has served as an adviser on diversity issues for the Magazine Publishers of America: “It is heartening to see the coordinated effort by news organizations to respond to the president’s attempts to undermine the credibility of the American media. It’s vitally important that we remind the public of the important role a free and unfettered press plays in the maintenance of our democracy. The fact that the media is vulnerable to these attacks, however, speaks volumes about the deficit of trust the public has in contemporary media. If we truly hope to fend off the assault of would-be demagogues, we must do more than pen fiery declaration. We must work harder to educate and be more transparent about our processes in order to win back the confidence of those whose confidence we have lost.”
Rachel Davis Mersey is an associate professor at Medill. Mersey is an expert on “fake news” and the author of “Can Journalism Be Saved? Rediscovering America’s Appetite for News”: “Fake news is a threat to democracy. One way that has come to fruition is conflating what respectable news organizations are doing day-in and day-out with internet trolls, foreign meddling and unverified information providers. There is no comparison. The president’s vilification of the press ultimately harms this country and its people.”