I agree with Sen. John McCain. The existence of a free and unfettered press is crucial to maintaining a democracy.
McCain made the statement in an interview that aired recently on NBC’s Meet The Press. He was speaking about President Trump’s attempts to silence the press by deriding accurate stories as “fake news.”
“If you want to preserve — I’m very serious now — if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press,” McCain told host Chuck Todd in the interview. “And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”
McCain, who has emerged as a frequent critic of President Trump, was careful to point out that he was not calling the president a dictator. Rather, McCain was calling our attention to history. And history is clear. A free society requires an unfettered press. Without it, truth dies, and our freedoms are not far behind.
That’s not a liberal or conservative viewpoint. It’s not a Democratic or Republican viewpoint. It is, at its core, an American viewpoint, because the free press is one of the pillars upon which America is built.
The press, in all its iterations, has proven its value again and again, because it has been at the center of all the biggest changes that have taken place in our country.
The written word, shared in pamphlets, papers and declarations, helped former British subjects to emerge victorious in the American Revolution. Independent newspapers, coupled with the free speech of abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, helped to abolish slavery from our nation’s shores. The rise of television news brought the shame of Jim Crow into America’s living rooms. Investigative journalism pushed a criminally corrupt Nixon administration from the White House.
Has the press also brought shame on our society? Yes it has. In the era of yellow journalism, the press abused its privilege by pushing sensational stories that strained the bounds of truth. Throughout our nation’s history, the press has been complicit in pushing racial and ethnic stereotypes. Even now, supermarket tabloids routinely publish stories that are drawn from the realm of the ridiculous.
But even with those significant exceptions, the free press has always shown an ability to rise above its weaknesses, to move toward the side of right, and to bring about the kind of societal changes that ultimately benefit us all.
In short, the free press is much more than the Fourth Estate. It is literally one of the columns that hold up the structure of our society.
When President Trump derides a meticulously reported CNN story about a Russian dossier containing information on the president, I worry that the column is crumbling. When the president calls the New York Times “fake news and failing” because it criticized his travel ban and chronicled his history of false claims, the foundation of our democracy is eroded.
That’s dangerous, and that’s why John McCain is right to speak up when our president wrongly discredits the media
We can’t fight the battle for facts on ever shifting ground. We must, at the very least, agree on the definition of truth.
If we can’t do that, we are no longer a democracy. We are something else altogether.
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