Freedom of Press Under Attack by Trump

Sunday was World Press Freedom Day and although it’s far from a national holiday, freedom of the press is a right granted to all Americans.

Unfortunately, this critical freedom, which has survived and served our nation well for nearly two and a half centuries, is under attack by Donald Trump and his benighted administration.

Our nation’s commitment to freedom of press was first proclaimed in the Declaration of Rights in 1776 during the Revolutionary War. It reads: “The freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic Governments.” It was further enshrined in the Constitution of the newly formed United States in 1791 as part of the First Amendment protecting freedom of speech, religion, assembly and the right to petition the government.

It’s hard to over-emphasize how important freedom of the press was considered by our nation’s Founding Fathers, as clearly reflected in the words of Thomas Jefferson in 1787: “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

The old saying goes “you don’t miss the water till the well runs dry.” It’s unfortunately all too applicable to the efforts at restricting, denying and attempting to kill freedom of the press — and our right to information about our government — by the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Not in modern memory has any president denied as much access to basic information about government functions as has Trump. Nor has any president not just questioned the press, but attacked it tens of thousands of times as “Fake News,” going so far as personally insulting and attacking the reporters who must brave his slings and arrows to bring Americans the truth this president so greatly fears.

Nor is Trump alone. Last week Vice President Mike Pence banned a reporter from future trips because he wrote about Pence’s extremely bad example to not wear a mask while visiting the Mayo Clinic. Everybody else was wearing one. Instead of admitting his error, Pence took retaliatory action against the reporter — and the truth.

Then there’s Attorney General Bill Barr — another fine example of the graft and corruption of Trump’s reign of error. Instead of releasing the Mueller report to the public so we could make out own decisions about its content, he gave us a horribly redacted version and a “summary” that qualifies as fiction because it omitted so much damning truth about Russian interference in the 2016 election to help Putin’s buddy Trump in the White House. But it did allow Trump to claim “total exoneration” — yet another in his list of more than 18,000 lies.

Want to find out who’s getting the trillions of dollars of “relief” money appropriated by Congress? Tough. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says he won’t release that information. Want oversight of these vast sums as Congress intended? Tough, Trump fired the inspector general who was supposed to provide that oversight.

Make no mistake, the “despotic government” so presciently warned of so long ago is here. If we don’t want the well of knowledge about our own government to go dry we must never take our right to a free press for granted. We must defend it with all our might, oppose those who would quash it, and be ever thankful for those brave enough to write the truth.

 

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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