I have books. Lots of books. Hundreds and hundreds of books.
Most of them are organized by genre: military history, military fiction, science fiction, high fantasy, contemporary fantasy, paranormal phenomena and commentary. But I have one shelf for “odds and ends,” books that don’t really fall into those genres. One of those books is Eight Plays by Henrik Ibsen.
One of those plays, and the reason I’ve owned this book for nearly 40 years, is “An Enemy of the People.”
That’s a title I proudly wear, bestowed upon my profession by the president of the United States, Donald Trump.
Journalists as “enemies of the people?” Such a thought would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic. Thirty-plus years after 1984, we’ve finally reached peak Orwellian double-speak where in is out, up is down and tyranny is freedom.
Then there was the “joke” last week our president shared with Vladimir Putin, president of Russia: “Get rid of [journalists].”
This was on Friday, the day Gov. Hogan selected as “Freedom of the Press Day.” The one-year anniversary of the murder of five members of the Annapolis Capital-Gazette by a man with a grudge against the newspaper.
Of course politicians and leaders of nations aren’t fond of the press. We’re the ones looking over their shoulders and holding them accountable. Powerful people hate that sort of thing.
When a leader devotes time to demonizing the press, the public should immediately say: What is he/she trying to hide? What don’t they want us to know?
Every nation ruled by an authoritarian, totalitarian, repressive government shares one thing: No free press. Or, like Russia, is ostensibly “free” — but has a free press that is under attack: 13 journalists (that we know of) have been murdered in Russia just since 2012. Go back to 2008, and the number is 36.
In free countries like the United States and France, journalists are killed by violent extremists, who also don’t like scrutiny of their actions. (Or are offended by cartoons). In authoritarian regimes, the government does the shooting.
Unlike many of my colleagues, I’m an optimist. I don’t see President Trump as an existential threat (I lived through Richard Nixon). I think people who claim Trump will refuse to step down if he loses the 2020 election are idiots.
No, the biggest danger to the free press is the slow, steady decrease in the number of newspapers as they close down in the face of the Internet.
Ah, but the public can get its news online, right? From the glorified bloggers who call themselves journalists and derisively refer to newspapers as the “lamestream media.”
Yes, the “lamestream media.” The ones with journalism degrees. The ones with training and experience in news gathering and writing. The ones who understand objectivity and whose news stories aren’t actually sloppily-written opinion columns rife with insults and innuendos.
The ones whose newspapers often have a history of integrity and credibility built over decades and more.
“News” sites online are often started by people with an agenda or an axe to grind. Newspaper journalists do this because we’re passionate about our profession, about reporting the news and holding the powerful accountable. We’re really not paid enough otherwise.
There have been respectable websites that have legitimately tried to impartially report the news. They usually fold. Unbiased, responsible news coverage? Who’s going to click on that? Let’s go to the site that panders to my beliefs and criticizes those I don’t like.
If anyone is concerned about a threat to the free press, don’t blame President Trump: Look in the mirror.
In Ibsen’s play, for those who haven’t read it, the “enemy of the people” is Dr. Stockmann — who discovers the bathing complex key to the town’s economy is contaminated and the people who use the baths will become seriously ill.
Stockmann is initially lauded for discovering this, until the town discovers that fixing the problem will be extremely expensive. People in the town, including his own brother, the mayor, begin to turn against him. But Stockmann stands his ground and refuses to back down, even after his home is vandalized and he and his daughter are fired from their jobs.
The “enemy of the people” is the hero of the story.