Why Press Coverage of the President Matters

February 27, 2017
freedom of the press

Back when I was a poor reporter in Florida.

freedom of the press

My first live shot in Tallahassee, Florida. I was the local government reporter for WCTV.

Do you know how much money reporters make straight out of college? Go ahead and take a guess. Journalism is so glamorous, the salary has got to be sustainable, right?

Wrong.

Most journalists make jack squat. I know all too well. I used to be one.

My first reporting gig I made a whopping 18k a year. My salary jumped to 23k when I took my second reporting job and I thought I had hit the jackpot.

The environment, the pressure, the demand… I often felt like a walking ulcer. There’s a reason so many call it quits after just a few years on the job. Unless you’re truly passionate and can overlook the pay, the field is merciless and it hardly seems worth it.

You may have noticed that reporters are attacked pretty ruthlessly these days, and not only by conservative citizens who are sick of liberal slants. They’ve also become quite the target for the President of the United States.President Trump holds nothing back on Twitter, even tweeting recently that the media is “the enemy of the American people.” He often calls journalism, “fake news,” “phony,” and “unfair.”

Apparently though, he’s not the only one who feels this way. A recent Gallup poll shows that Americans who actually trust the news media are at an all time low. Basically, never before in American history have journalists been so mistrusted.

That’s alarming!

On Friday, the White House took that mistrusted attack on journalists to a new level. This time, several news outlets were barred from attending a White House press gaggle (a fancy term for an off-camera briefing). CNN, the New York Times, and Politico, just to name a few, weren’t allowed in with the rest of the their White House press colleagues.

White House officials response to the gaggle debacle was that there was minimal space in the room the gaggle was held, so not everyone could logistically attend. No one’s press credentials were revoked, no one missed out on any information.

The bottom line here is this: we can all hate the media and be frustrated with their slanted reporting from time to time, but they cannot be banned from covering our elected officials. Ever.

Trust them or not, journalism is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. In fact, it’s considered so important that it’s listed in the same amendment that protects freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the right of people to peacefully assemble.

Basically, if you believe in all those things, you have to believe in reporters’ rights too.

Freedom of the press is generally understood to prevent the government from interfering with the distribution of information and opinions.

Remove this protection and our very democracy is threatened and it puts us all at risk. Journalists are not the “enemy of the people.”

Quite the contrary, in fact.

Journalism’s role in all this is to be the government watchdog. When something with our government (or a business or organization) is amiss, it is their job to report it so we can take action.

Take away the freedom of press and our country is no better off than a communist country like China, whose government heavily censors its media.

In fact, these little spouts with the press are nothing new for leaders of our country. There is a long, complicated history between the press and presidents (check out that link there, it’s quite fascinating). Apparently tiffs with the press comes with the job and go all the way back to George Washington.

However, even though the relationship between the two might be a bit rocky, it’s still an essential one.

According to the Smithsonian, “the dance between reporters and the commander-in-chief has always been seen as a necessity for the nation to function.”

Just today President George W. Bush, a president scrutinized endlessly by the press, weighed in on the matter. He warned that an independent press is essential to democracy and denouncing the press in our own country makes it difficult to preach democratic values to other countries.

“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. We need an independent media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse power, whether it be here or elsewhere.” Bush said.

No matter which news organizations may have wronged a president in the past, or will wrong them in the future, press coverage is a constitutional right.

Journalists have such immense pressure to be the first to break news, to get out new information before their competitors, they sometimes don’t check their sources before running with a story, or decide to publish something before a source responds to them.

Trust me, no matter how much you believe in journalism, mistakes happen. Consequently, it doesn’t always leave the best image in the public’s eye, or the president’s (though obviously that mistrust is from factors other than just mistakes being made).

Want to know when Americans’ trust and confidence in the press was at its highest? It was back when reporters broke the news of the Watergate scandal in 1976. It was the ultimate watchdog story.

In a democracy, trying to keep our government leaders honest and in check is essential. When the American people realized that’s what had happened with Watergate, their trust in journalists skyrocketed.

If we can’t trust the media, whose job it is to keep people informed on government action, the entire system is broken. But blocking the press from doing their jobs isn’t the answer.

The president is allowed to have all those tiff’s with the press. He can vent at them and stomp his feet and call them names on Twitter. But when it comes to blocking them from doing their job, there’s a line that should not and cannot be crossed — no matter how much the polls show Americans don’t trust their reporting.

The media’s watchdog role in our democracy is vital and journalists aren’t paid nearly enough for that kind of responsibility.

What to tell your kids about this issue?

Want a way to loop your kids into this issue? Ask them what they know about journalism. What is the last news story they remember hearing? Have they ever watched the news? Start there: watch a news broadcast and explain about anchors, reporters, etc. Tell them how under the Constitution of the United States, reporters rights are protected to bring us the news of our elected leaders. To help keep those leaders honest, it’s a journalists job to play the role of watchdog. That means, if they see our government officials doing something wrong, it’s their job to inform the American people about it so they can take action, if necessary.

 

Author: Andrea

Former news reporter and Capitol Hill press guru, wife, mom, and pastry addict.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Joy Candrian February 28, 2017 at 1:31 am

    Excellent explanation, thank you for this post. I heard President Bush this morning say this. I was impressed.

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