Viewpoints

Criticism of news media by those in power is not new

Gregory Favre
Gregory Favre

Hold off on those last rites for legacy media outlets. There is still life in those old bodies.

Need proof? The New York Times and The Washington Post published the stories that led to the demise of national security adviser Michael Flynn. The Times also reported on then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign associates talking to Russian intelligence agents.

And those are just among the latest in a string of stories about President Trump, as well as some of his Cabinet appointees, that have dominated the news cycles in recent months.

No wonder Trump has unleashed a rash of his exclamation point tweets and said it’s “fake media” reporting “fake news.”

The issue of reporting on national security in a politically charged and deeply divided environment is not new. There always has been a rainfall of criticism of the press for breaking stories about the actions of various administrations.

It is even truer today in this increasingly complex technological society, a society in which large groups of people are losing a sense of connection with our institutions, a society in which there has been a disintegration based on the distinctions of race, age, ideology and lifestyle.

There are increasing moments when it seems we are living in a society in which greed swamps us, everywhere from Wall Street to our sports’ fields of dreams. It appears that once again our national soul, that which binds us together, is at risk.

That is why the truly legitimate old and the new media can play such a vital role. From the beginning, our founders believed the dissemination of news and information, of comment and ideas was indispensable to the maintenance of a free society. They further believed we had to have the fullest opportunity for expression of opinions and the revelation of facts.

The media’s responsibility then is to keep faith with those we serve on any platform. I believe that most people want insight and wit and integrity in reporting. They want information that includes knowledge and a sense of perspective. They want intellectual honesty and a devotion to fairness and accuracy.

And perhaps, as William Faulkner said in his Nobel acceptance speech, they want us to remember that the writer’s duty is “to help man endure by lifting his heart. By reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.”

There have been uncountable instances of clashes between the media and administrations. Decades ago the government tried to stop The Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers. But Katherine Graham, the Post’s owner, stood her ground and the Supreme Court ruled in her favor.

It was Justice Hugo Black who wrote, “The government’s power to censure the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”

Think about it, if Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador and his failure to tell Vice President Mike Pence the truth about what was said wasn’t exposed, he might still be in his old job.

Speaking of Pence, maybe he can whisper in his boss’s ear some words he spoke when he was a congressman and co-author of a federal shield law for journalists.

“Compelling reporters to testify, and in particular, compelling them to reveal the identity of their confidential sources is a detriment to the public interest,” he said. “As a conservative who believes in limited government, I know the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press.”

Instead of saying amen for legacy media, how about shouting Alleluia.

Gregory Favre is the former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and retired vice president of news for The McClatchy Company. He can be contacted at gfavre@sbcglobal.net.

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