The WORDmeister’s Note: It is difficult for some to celebrate Presidents’ Day today, given our current occupant. It is instructive to recall that many — if not most — U.S. chief executives had their problems with the press, starting with George Washington. No one, however, has treated the press, either as individuals or as a small-d democratic institution like President Trump has. This is longer than the usual WORD. But what the heck — it’s a federal holiday. Kick back.
For Presidents’ Day 2017: Reflecting on Presidents and the Press
“Thomas Jefferson railed against newspapers as ‘polluted vehicles.’ . . . Richard Nixon tangled with reporters in the toxic atmosphere of Watergate . . . Bill Clinton publicly condemned ‘purveyors of hatred and division’ on the public airwaves.” . . .
“There has never been a kind of holistic jihad against the news media like Trump is executing,” said Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley. “Trump is determined to beat and bloody the press whenever he finds himself in a hole, and that’s unique.” . . .
“‘The press is your enemy,‘ [Nixon told aides]. ‘Enemies. Understand that? ... Because they’re trying to stick the knife right in our groin.’” . . .
“Jefferson wrote to a newspaper editor in 1807: ‘Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.’” . . .
“Brinkley said Trump’s tactics reflect a broad cultural shift away from news to entertainment, as the former reality TV star tries to keep his supporters engaged. ‘He’s trying to show that he’s King Kong and the press are little gnats,’ says Brinkley. ‘That has box office appeal to a certain segment of the population.’”
—Nancy Benac, reporter, “Remember Nixon? There's history behind Trump's press attacks,” Associated Press, Feb. 17, 2017
Then, on Friday, Trump tweeted this:
John McCain (who was almost a president) disagrees: “If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free — and many times adversarial — press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time — that’s how dictators get started.”
—Chuck Todd, Phil Helsel and Matt Rivera, “McCain Warns Suppressing Press ‘Is How Dictators Get Started,’” Meet the Press, Feb. 19, 2017
• Editorial Comment: Heavy sigh.
PeezPix by Ted Pease
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