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Now, More Than Ever, We Need a Free Press

Could it ever happen here? For decades, experts have asked. And until very recently, hardly anyone seriously considered America was in any immediate danger. But now, in light of the Trump Administration’s recent moves to muzzle entire federal agencies and use press conferences to promote absolute falsehoods, we are left to wonder…

Is our democracy in danger? What must our media do to prevent the ultimate American tragedy from happening?

 

Late in January, multiple federal agencies ordered federal workers not to communicate with Congress or the press.

It didn’t take long for the media to determine why federal agencies were suddenly curtailing access, even by ordering social media accounts frozen. Considering the Inauguration Weekend stand down order on the Interior Department and the Trump Administration’s freeze on various EPA programs, we realized the Trump Administration was already beginning to place gag orders on federal agencies in an attempt to silence their work.

Sadly, the gag orders were only a sign of what was to come.

There’s also the fact that the Trump Administration has already declared war on the truth.

President Trump continues to repeat the lie that millions of “illegal votes” were cast in last year’s Presidential Election. Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway coined the now infamous term “alternative facts” when she tried to spin away Trump’s lies about the Inauguration crowd size. The White House scrubbed its website of pages focusing on  LGBTQ Americans and climate change; the Spanish language version of the site also disappeared shortly after Trump’s inauguration.

Just last Thursday, Trump used his CPAC speech to attack the media for reporting on his campaign’s possible ties to Russia. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer followed that up the next day by barring The New York Times, CNN, and other news outlets Trump has attacked as “fake news” (for reporting the real news) from attending the daily briefing. I wish this was just another of Kellyanne Conway’s attempts at stand-up comedy, but this is the lurid reality we now live in.

What does this mean? Do we have reason to fear?

Potentially. To be clear, there’s likely no immediate risk of the U.S.becoming a fascist and/or totalitarian state. We still have a U.S. Constitution, therefore we still have a series of checks and balances. But considering Trump’s “authoritarian red flags”, Americans must be vigilant.

This is where the press must step in. Now, more than ever, we need journalists who actually exercise their First Amendment rights. Now, more than ever, we need truth-tellers who aren’t afraid to call a lie what it is.

Now, more than ever, we need actual news we can trust.

Last year, I witnessed how the fatal combination of fake news proliferation, press complicity in Trump’s media circus, media consolidation (which has since led to newsrooms being pressured to turn a profit), and Americans’ growing distrust of the media provided the atmosphere in which Trump could prevail last fall. I stand by everything I wrote in December, and I’ll now add this: The jury’s currently out on whether the press can clean up its act in time to do its job and report the real news.

The good news: We’re finally seeing some of what was sorely missing on the campaign trail last year. Now that the Trump Administration is here, mainstream outlets are fact-checking the new President. Far too often, it was too easy for us to revel in the circus-like atmosphere of Trump Campaign events while slacking off on uncovering truth that may be hidden beneath lies. But apparently now that President Trump is in office, there’s a new sense of urgency in the press corps to get it right.

The bad news: Many of the same dynamics at work on the campaign trail last year are in place now. Countless newsrooms throughout the country are still too strained to devote many resources to investigative journalism. As the White House claims real news outlets are “fake news” whenever they report stories Trump doesn’t like, some citizens may now feel even more confused as they try to determine what is real and what is fake.

As a result, the pressure is on journalists like never before to decide what’s more valuable: access or integrity.

We can only hope more news outlets follow the example being set by Reuters. They vowed to apply lessons their reporters have learned in less democratic, less open societies to their coverage of President Trump here in the United States. If the Trump Administration continues to attack any and all media outlets that simply try to report the facts, then these media outlets must learn to adapt to this more hostile environment to inform the American people of what their government is doing in their name.

Here at Nevada Forward, we are trying our hardest to earn your trust by sticking to the actual facts. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to find ways to attain access to various halls in power. I’ve also learned the importance of maintaining one’s integrity. In the days ahead, all of us on the Nevada Forward team will aim to get that access whenever we need… And do so while sticking to the highest standards of honesty and integrity.

I’ve been writing for over ten years, and I’ve been fully functioning on the media side of things for over two years. I came off a Presidential Election that will likely never be forgotten (as it shouldn’t be). In assessing what went wrong, we have a better sense of what must be done right. Now, more than ever before, we need a free press that’s fully functional and more than willing to use its First Amendment rights. If our democracy is to survive, citizens must be equipped with the facts. They have no alternative.

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