The Suffolk Journal

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Violence toward press, unity among journalists

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Speakers at Ford Hall Forum’s “The enemy of the people? Freedom of the press and democracy” event at Modern Theater on Feb. 6 described the importance of a free press in the face of President Trump’s attempts to discredit it, and how The Boston Globe started a movement to defend it.

It was on the first Tuesday of last August when the Globe’s editorial staff decided to fight back against Trump, who frequently labeled the press “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.”  Along with her colleagues, Marjorie Pritchard, the Deputy Managing Editor for the editorial page at The Globe and a speaker at the event, asked newspapers across the country to simultaneously publish editorials defending the press’s dedication to truth.

By the time the editorials were published on August 16, a week and a half after the idea was introduced, 429 publications ranging from conservative newspapers and small town weeklies to major new outlets had signed on to what Pritchard called the “most remarkable experience of her career.”

“In the end, we collectively spoke intelligently and firmly, a deep and broad counterpunch to the President of the country who finds it politically expedient to label the media the enemy of the people and any news he doesn’t like fake,” said Pritchard to the audience.

While the Senate unanimously passed a resolution stating “the press is not the enemy of the people” just hours after the editorials were published, Trump took a different approach in his response. He once again tweeted that much of what the press publishes is “fake news” and that the “The Globe is in COLLUSION with other papers on free press. PROVE IT!”  

“I never could determine what he meant by ‘prove it,’ but this was not collusion,” said Pritchard. “This was the press wanting its voice to be heard in the public discourse. Defending the Constitution should not be a controversial proposition.”

Pritchard said Trump is not the first president to have a distrustful relationship with the press. She explained to the audience that John Adams censored journalists through the Sedition Act, Theodore Roosevelt labeled journalists “muckrakers,’’ Richard Nixon created a list of enemies that included many journalists, and Barack Obama denied the most Freedom of Information requests of any presidents, even spying on the press and prosecuting journalists regularly.

Bryan Trabold, chair of the Suffolk University English Department and a speaker at the event, compared Trump’s attack on the media to the Apartheid government’s suppression of journalists in the late 20th century by quoting Norman Manoim, an attorney who advised a newspaper that opposed the Apartheid government and the violent methods it used to segregate black and white citizens.

“ ‘The [Apartheid] government never wanted the public to know that newspapers were writing the truth about them and that the government was stopping the truth,’ ” said Trabold in his speech, quoting Manoim. “ ‘They wanted to say, ‘These people are lying. That’s why we’re censoring, not because they’re telling the truth – these people are liars.’ ”

Pritchard shared the results of an Ipsos poll that was released just a week before the editorials were published. It found that 48 percent of Republicans consider the press the enemy of the people, while more than one-quarter of Americans said they believe “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.’’

“[The hostility toward the press] is intimidating because journalists already feel such a pressure of doing the right thing, making sure they’re not too opinionated, not too right sided and not too left sided, and have to do this while reporting accurately,” said Alexandria Acacia, a broadcast journalism major at Suffolk who attended the event, in an interview with the Journal.

Since Trump’s election, presidents in Venezuela, Syria and the Philippines have defamed reports of violence and murder by their administrations as nothing more than “fake news.”

Pritchard noted that this sort of speech by politicians can put journalists in danger. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 251 reporters were imprisoned in 2018 and at least 53 were killed.

“[Those killed included] five at the Capital Gazette in Maryland, who were killed by a gunman with a vendetta against the paper,” said Pritchard. “There was also the vicious murder of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of the Saudi government, killed for holding the government accountable.”

On the day the editorials were published, Robert Chain, 68, called the Boston Globe and threatened to kill every journalist there at 4 p.m. by shooting them in the head, right after calling them the enemies of the people. He was arrested a week and a half later when law enforcement found 20 guns- including a semi-automatic weapon- in his home.

Chain told reporters outside a federal courthouse after his arrest that “The United States got saved by having Donald J. Trump elected as president.”

“The threat isn’t necessarily from the government infringing on first amendment rights,” said Trabold. “The threat is when you create such a toxic environment that it could potentially lead to violence.”

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About the Writer
Caroline Enos, Assistant News Editor

Caroline is a double major in print journalism and government. When she isn't stressing over deadlines, Caroline spends her time drawing, listening to...

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Violence toward press, unity among journalists