The Press and the President
By Hal Lindsey
On Wednesday, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona made a much-hyped speech on the floor of the US Senate. He told the media what he would say, long before he actually said it. The speech’s rollout was orchestrated for maximum public impact. But, as these things go, the press showed far more interest in the hype than in the speech itself.
Days before he took to the Senate floor, Flake told the news media that he would defend them against Donald Trump’s attacks. He even announced, well before the speech, that he would compare Trump to Soviet dictator and mass murderer, Joseph Stalin. Remember that Stalin was directly responsible for the murders of 40 million people — even more than Adolf Hitler.
Flake focused his outrage on the President’s statement calling the mainstream media, “the enemy of the people.”
“It is a testament to the condition of our democracy,” Flake said, “that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of ‘annihilating such individuals’ who disagreed with the supreme leader.”
Does Senator Flake really think President Trump plans on “annihilating” individuals with his criticism of the press? Who would that be? Certainly not the press.
In the quote above, Flake did something even more bizarre. He held up Nikita Khrushchev as a model. How did Khrushchev treat dissident members of the press? He didn’t call them “enemies of the state.” Instead, he sent them to concentration camps. He executed them. Does anyone other than Jeff Flake think Khrushchev should be held up as a model when it comes to how a President should treat the press?
Flake called the free press “the guardian of democracy.” To some extent, I agree. And because I agree, it is a sobering statement. To see what I mean, just look at the sorry state of the free press.
Senator Flake said of America, “From our very beginnings, our freedom has been predicated on truth.” Again, the scary thing is that he’s right. In a government “of the people” and “by the people,” it is essential that people hear an accurate account of the news. Instead, we get biased opinion, and exaggeration. It’s all about getting Internet clicks, and pushing a political agenda. Too often, these goals require members of the press to circumvent truth. I’m not talking about opinion journalism. There’s an important role for that. But we also need the straight reporter who simply gives the facts. These days, such journalists are in short supply.
At one point in the speech, Senator Flake began to confuse the “news media” with “truth.” He spoke of “the damage done by the sustained attack on the truth.” That conflation of terms shows a misunderstanding of truth. He said, “No president will ever have dominion over objective reality.” Of course not. Neither does the New York Times.
Perhaps the most laughably ironic line in the speech was this one. “No politician will ever get to tell us what the truth is and is not.” Here he stands, a politician on the floor of the Senate, telling us his version of what the truth is and is not — while saying that, “No politician will ever get to tell us what the truth is and is not.”
Politicians do get to tell us what they think is true. They do it incessantly. They complain when they don’t like what the media says about them, or their policies. They try to set us straight when other politicians say things they don’t like — just as Mr. Flake did in his speech.
Lately several people in the media have quoted Thomas Jefferson saying, “The only security of all is in a free press.” But he later said, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”
Historian Joseph Ellis said of Jefferson, “In his second term, in response to serious criticism from the New England newspapers… he instructed the state attorney generals in New England to prosecute the newspaper editors for sedition.”
President Trump criticizes the media. Yes, he once called them the “enemy of the people.” But lies really do hurt people. They are the enemy of democracy. And the media lie. They do it in many ways, and they do it on a regular basis.
More effectively than anyone in memory, Donald Trump fights back.
I assume Senator Flake does not really believe “the press” and “truth” are synonymous. He obviously sees the important, irreplaceable role of a free press in a free society. His speech implied that he believes in transparency.
Anyone who believes that the press is fallible, yet important, should be happy when the press receives blistering criticism for its lies, and biases. Commentators keep saying that President Trump is unpatriotic for attacking the press. But when the press lies, isn’t it highly patriotic to attack those lies?
I don’t agree with everything President Trump says on this issue. But there is nothing more American than criticizing the press. If you don’t agree, just ask Washington, Jefferson, or Lincoln.
Jesus said, “The truth shall make you free.” In this case, here’s the truth. Many in the news media are willing to lie for their own economic and political purposes.