Editorial: Media plays a vital role in democracy

Journalists are many things—inquisitive, determined, sometimes even annoying. But dishonest? Definitely not. After all, journalists are dedicated to reporting the truth and providing information to the public.

So when President Donald Trump called journalists “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” following his inauguration two weeks ago, it not only echoed the same vitriolic sentiments about the news media that he preached during his presidential campaign, but also signaled a fast-growing rift between the government and the press.    

The relationship between the news media and the government is delicate, but it is an essential piece of any well-functioning democracy, where the press is one of the few institutions with the power to truly check the government’s actions.

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Hard-hitting press is a stalwart of American society. In the early twentieth century, muckrakers such as Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell pioneered the field of investigative journalism, reporting on injustices in industry. And in 1972, perhaps most famously, the Washington Post’s Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward brought down President Richard Nixon after he was caught committing illegal activities. The Watergate scandal was an example of how journalists can keep politicians in check and hold public officials accountable.

These are just a few of the instances where the press has done their job in exposing injustices and checking those with power. They also exemplify the importance of the American public supporting the institution of the media and valuing its role in our democracy.

Unfortunately, a September Gallup poll found that only 32 percent of Americans have a great deal of trust in the media, the lowest percentage in polling history. Interestingly enough, the year in which the highest percentage of Americans had trust in the media was 1976, immediately following the Watergate scandal.

The current lack of public trust comes during an unsteady year for the news media, both in their shaky coverage of the presidential election and in the “fake news” epidemic, which highlighted how social media makes it difficult to decipher news credibility.

Yes, the news media has new challenges at hand, but as American citizens, we must understand the role that the media plays and has always played in our democracy, especially with a presidential administration that has shown it will continue to cast the press in a negative light.

It was perhaps foolish to expect Trump to change his media tactics upon entering the White House. But even so, the rhetoric used by Trump and his administration to describe the news media is troubling because it adds to an already strained relationship between the media and the government, and, more important, shows the government may have opportunities to potentially lie to the American public.

Last week, Trump said that he is “running a war” with the media. But it was the statement from White House strategist Steve Bannon which rang out the loudest. Bannon said the media should “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while” before calling the media “the opposition party.”

The media exists not to keep their mouths shut and listen, but to speak out and inform. Working for the Bark as student journalists, we have been taught to do just that, to write about injustices in our community, to express our opinions on important social topics and to hold those in leadership positions to a high level of accountability.

The professional news media has a profound responsibility. With a politically inexperienced and controversial president in office, they have the challenging task of trying to hold him and his staff accountable.

It will not be easy to do, but the news media should do their best to band together, respond to Trump’s attacks aggressively, and put the necessary pressure on his administration.

And as citizens, we must do our part as well. Not only should we read the news (and check it for accuracy), but we should also do our best to have a general faith in the press and what they are trying to do. If the public does not support the press, Trump’s attacks on the media have succeeded.

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