The Press Isn’t The Enemy of the People; Jim Acosta Is

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President Donald Trump’s occasional claim that the press is “the enemy of the American people” is over the top.

It also had nothing to do with the shootings at the Capital Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis, Maryland Thursday.

Yet some mainstream media reporters and commentators are determined to link the president with the killing of five people by a deranged man. CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is probably the most prominent so far – “Mr. President, will you stop calling the press the enemy of the people, sir?” – but there are other examples.

If you spend about 10 minutes reading online, you can see that the shooter, Jarrod Ramos, had a longstanding vendetta against The Capital newspaper for publishing in 2011 a column detailing Ramos’s longstanding harassment of a woman he had barely known in high school. The column, based on public records pertaining to Ramos’s guilty plea for harassment in court and interviews with the victim, appears to have been accurate. But Ramos sued for defamation. A judge found that Ramos never offered any evidence that anything in the column was untrue. Still, even when he lost the case, Ramos continued harassing the reporter who wrote the article and the editor who oversaw it and the newspaper that published it.

One way you know Ramos is deranged is that he walked into an office building and shot five people to death. Another way is that he didn’t even have anything against them – the reporter and editor have both left the paper, some time ago. So Ramos went into the building to kill people who – even from his twisted point of view – never did anything to him.

This mass-murder is a reminder about the dangers of the news business. By their nature, newspapers tend to be open and accessible. Reporters have to be reachable in order to report news. Editors and editorial writers can be less accessible and still function – but not as well as when they’re out and about. This opens up reporters and editors to angry people who don’t like what reporters and editors do.

No one deserves what our five colleagues in Maryland got. We mourn them, and we honor them. As President Trump said Friday:  “Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.”

News is not often a heroic trade; but sometimes it is. Somebody needs to tell the truth. Somebody needs to represent people in public who don’t get enough representing on their own. Free speech is a right, as we all know – but it’s also, in some cases, a duty. People who strive to tell the truth in public deserve respect, and they deserve to function without fear. That some of them continue to function even in the face of fear is heroic.

That’s the noble side of the news business. There’s an uglier side, though:  When the goal isn’t to tell the truth, but to tell non-truths.

Now, even those who aren’t trying to tell the truth ought to be able to function without fear of violence. But they are doing damage to the country. Take Jim Acosta. His disingenuous question to President Trump about the Annapolis shooting is among his lesser enormities. As CNN’s senior White House correspondent, Acosta has taken it on himself to attack President Trump frequently.

That’s dishonest, because he pretends to be a news reporter. But that’s not the worst part of it. More troubling is that the things he says while allegedly presenting the news are often dishonest.

Here are some examples:

“He is ushering in a cold war, a return to the cold war between Washington and Havana”

“We’re not just seeing a press conference go off the rails, or jump the tracks, you are watching a presidency go off the rails and jump the tracks”

“But of course this is a president who launched his campaign saying that Mexican immigrants are rapists”

“He has said over the years that, you know, when talking about African-American athletes, calling them sons of bitches”

These are inaccurate statements. But they aren’t mistakes. They’re intentionally misleading.

There shouldn’t be much room in politics for such mendacity. In the news business, there should be none.

Most people in this country are down on the media. It’s not because they don’t value news and information. It’s because they don’t trust the media giving it to them. Ham-handed ideologizing in the face of horror feeds a narrative many people already assume:  that people in the news business are generally dishonest.

That ain’t so. Most reporters and editors are honest and do their best to present the views even of people they disagree with — sometimes under trying circumstances.

Liberal? Yes.

Biased? Often.

Obtuse? Sometimes.

Dishonest? On the whole, no.

But those who are dishonest aren’t just cheating on the truth. They are also enemies of the American people, because they are running down an institution that our country depends on.