Permit me to enter my small voice to today’s national gathering of newspapers editorially reacting – en masse – to Donald Trump’s rancorous charge that journalists are the “enemy of the people”. As one who has knocked some newspapers and broadcasters from time to time – and soundly knocked by them – in the normal fraternal give-and-take of the business, I am not here to take a bow for a profession that I was forever happy to represent in the more than half-century in which I tried to serve it.
Yes, we all have l had moments that we would like to replay with more finesse. And yes, there were days when I looked at slumbering dog well after midnight and confided that it might have been better to have been born rich than staying up half the night to finish a free-lance magazine article or another book chapter. But when there was a news story to cover, it was always the most fulfilling enterprise that I could ever hope to achieve. To me, it was a gift to be a loving witness to whatever the event.
Trump is telling me that I am an enemy of the people? Dishonest? Fake?
As the metropolitan editor for a time at the Beacon Journal, it was not unusual for me to share a sad moment with a reader at my desk who wanted me to recover her lost dog. As a dog lover, I might have been frustrated by the limited chance of finding the dog through a snippet in the paper. Yet, there was a reader who placed her hope in me as tears tracked down her face.
Or the times that a visitor sought help, or at least some direction, in escaping the rants or her boss. Or advice on how to pare down family debt. Or the raspy shouting voice on the phone at midnight asking me what Lou Novikoff’s batting average had been. Was he trying to win a bet with a guy at the bar? I told him to call me in the morning and I might have an answer.
But people to people was what the business was all about. The discourse couldn’t happen with “enemies of the people.”
It’s doubtless been that way since Peter Zenger, a New York journalist was charged with libel and later acquitted in 1735, There was the turmoil of the publishing age controlled by the Alien and Sedition acts that allow no criticism of top political officeholders, laws passed in a frenzy over French immigrants.
Suppression of the press has taken detours, failed and recovered, but somehow when ordinary people sought relief as the last resort, we journalists were proud to lend a hand.
We are imperfect souls. But most of us try as journalists to be decent. Even if I didn’t have Lou Novikoff’s batting average at hand, I told the man to try again and I might give him a figure that wasn’t fake news.