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Trump’s “enemy of the people” rants: Toxic to democracy, danger to journalists

“This dirty war on the free press must end.”

That was the call to action by The Boston Globe to newspapers across the country encouraging the publication of independent editorials today to respond to President Trump’s repeated attacks on the media.

The pitch: “Publications, whatever their politics, could make a powerful statement by standing together in common defense of their profession and the vital role it plays in government for and by the people.”

Today, an estimated 350 newspapers are accepting the challenge.

And communication professionals allies are lining up:

In support of the newspaper editorialists, executive director of the Radio-Television Digital  News Association executive editor Dan Shelley has urged his members to join the effort by “dedicating airtime, publishing an online editorial or sharing information on social media platforms.”

Significantly, Shelley added that Trump rhetoric “has contributed to many of the president’s supporters lashing out harshly against members of the White House press corps and other journalists. It must stop before more journalists are hurt or worse.”

Too, this morning The Public Relations Society of America (21,000 members + 11,000 student members), in a statement by Chair Anthony D’Angelo, proclaimed:

“Today we join with our compatriots in the news media to proudly affirm The Fourth Estate as a vital engine of democracy. Without it, and without freedom of thought and expression as provided by the First Amendment, informed decision-making is not possible and individual freedoms suffer…

“We collaboratively declare our support for journalists who who bravely seek the truth, focus on facts, and hold government, business and other institutions accountable.”


For many, the etymology of the phrase, “enemies  of the people” may be alarming.

From August 3rd edition of The Guardian:  “Donald Trump’s repeated use of the phrase ‘enemies of the people’in his attacks on the media has stoked angerand fear not only because of general concerns that he is demolishing a pillar of American democracy, but because of its echoes of totalitarianism ….

“It became well known in the 20th century when it was adopted by dictators from Stalin to Mao, and Nazi propagandists … Stalin was perhaps most closely associated with the phrase.”

Hmm, Stalin. Fast segue to the leadership of Russia today, its KGP provenance  and its relations with journalists.

In an NPR special report, Scott Simon has reflected on a string of recent, suspicious deaths of Russian journalists and dissidents: “Why do Russian journalists keep falling?”

In America, we’re not near there yet. And, hopefully, we’ll never get there. But it will take constant nourishment of the First Amendment commitment to freedom of the press with campaigns like that of Boston Globe. And, of course, a macro political reversal of direction on November 6th.

There is much at stake right now, right here.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have provided the fitting end piece for reflection. In her New York Times best seller, Democracy, Stories from the Long Road to Freedom”, she notes,

“1787 -“Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.’ ” [Emphasis added with gusto.]