Caring about the Constitution means ­caring about the media
© Getty Images

The Constitution and the news media’s fates are tied together— if one falls, the other goes down with it.

In fact, the only profession explicitly named and protected in the Constitution is the press. The founders understood that if the press was in jeopardy, democracy, their new country’s innovative experiment, would be in peril, too.

ADVERTISEMENT
That’s why it is concerning there is such apathy, and in some cases unwavering support, when there are attempts to discredit the free press.

 

What many Americans now take for granted is that this “experiment” is constantly being tested every day. As Ben Franklin famously said to a woman who asked him if the country was a monarchy or a republic as he walked out of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, “A republic,” he answered, “if you can keep it."

So when Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) says it’s “better to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth,” he is making an un-American statement.

When a country controls the news media, it then becomes a state-run media. That’s the model that countries like North Korea, China, and Russia use. None of which are beacons of democratic values.

Even if Trump is currently trusted more than the media by certain constituencies, attempting to delegitimize media institutions will have detrimental effects beyond this presidency. Perhaps Smith will once again find his patriotic roots if Democrats control the state-run media he is encouraging. 

With the evolution of social media, this could easily become a reality soon, too. Consider that social media has made it possible for the White House to create media content and distribute it inexpensively to the masses. If efforts are made to dilute or remove the mainstream media, it’s not inconceivable that the White House will one day be the country’s main source for news. That’s dangerous — no matter who holds the office.

As Trump has shown since his election, he is following up on much of what he proposed during the campaign.

Trump can take tangible steps, like not responding to questions from the media or excluding news organizations from press briefings, to chip away at the press’ freedom. And with enough cracks, any structure can fall.

None of this is to say that the news media should not be constantly critiqued. Sometimes, outlets do need to challenged when they misreport. When Time incorrectly reported that the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office, that is an appropriate time to assert that the publication apologize and correct its error, which Time did.

However, it’s an uneasy road when politicians try to punish outlets for running stories that the White House does not agree with. President Obama probably did not appreciate that Fox News allowed Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE, before he was even a candidate, to claim without evidence that Obama was not born in this country.

Fox News had the right to air that, because they are protected by the same rights that other news media are afforded. The same rights Trump and others have threatened to minimize.

So here’s what needs to happen to protect the First Amendment: When anyone attempts to delegitimize the press or threatens to reduce its role in society, be cognizant of that. Do not allow it to become a mainstream idea that the press “is the enemy of the American people,” as Trump tweeted.

Be critical of the news and know that sometimes the media may not get the whole story right. It’s fine to disagree with how a story was covered, and it’s acceptable to believe that some outlets do a better job reporting than others. But understand that they all have the right to practice journalism within the current legal parameters that have been solidified over the history of this country.

Journalism has strengthened the Constitution, and in turn, the Constitution gives strength to journalism.           

And be fortunate that this article was available to read and that everyone has the right to comment in support of it or against it. Realize that this is a freedom that is in danger, and that if the country is not careful to protect this right, having the ability to chose what media to consume and comment on might not be an option one day. 

Adam Chiara (@AdamChiara) is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Hartford. He has worked as a legislative aide in the Connecticut General Assembly and as a journalist.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.