Enemies of the State

“F**k the media,” he yelled.

He yelled it twice, the man wearing a red “Make America Great Again,” cap, as he was being restrained after assaulting a BBC cameraman during a Feb. 12 rally for President Donald Trump in El Paso, Texas, according to a BBC News report.

The President paused for a moment, asked, “You all right … everything okay,” in the direction of the fracas, then offered a thumb’s up before continuing his speech.

The cameraman was okay. But barely 10 minutes after the attack, Trump himself was taking his turn at attacking the media.

“There’s also collusion between the Democrats and the fake news, right here,” he said, which was met by a volley of chants from the crowd: “CNN sucks, CNN sucks.”

The anti-media chant is a refrain heard more and more these days—from both politicians and the public.

It’s also a marked change from the way people used to feel about reporters: they used to trust them.

According to a Gallup poll from 1976, in the era just after the Watergate scandal, public trust in the media was at 74 percent.

When Gallup polled Americans with the same question in 2016, that number had dropped to 32 percent—and a mere 14 percent for republicans.

T-shirt
Mock-up of t-shirt worn by a man at a rally for President Donald Trump in 2016 and later sold on Walmart.com in 2017 (later pulled due to protests). Since 2017, 98 journalists were physically attacked and 5 were killed in America according to U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a website that monitors all threats to the press in America. (graphic by Paul Flipse)

 

So, not only does the president hate the media, but apparently so do the majority of the American people. Bottom line: it’s a tough time to be a journalist.

Yet, not all journalists see it that way. Take Theodore Andersen for one.

A graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, Andersen interned for the Associated Press in Thailand before moving on to a byline for the San Francisco Chronicle. He’s now a digital editor for the San Francisco Business Times, and he sees the current anti-media climate in America as a positive.

“I think it’s been good for emboldening real journalists to do better work, and motivate them to do a better job,” he said.

Andersen also eschews the notion that being ridiculed by both politicians and the American public is tough to take.

“Your goal as a journalist shouldn’t be to have a big, ego/vanity post with a byline,” he said. “Your job as a journalist is to do public service.”

The idea of working for the greater good is one held by many in the media, including Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, as he expressed in a 2015 interview with Vice News.

“The role of investigative journalism is to shine a light on the inner workings of darkness, whether in the government or anywhere else, and expose it to the public,” said Hedges. “That’s very important to the health of a democracy.”

Beyond the altruistic nature of the job, the underlying presence is journalists’ knowledge of a hostile readership, and their reaction to knowing their work is put under a magnifying glass—if not disbelieved outright—every time one of their articles goes to print.

“The public is definitely more conscientious of what they’re reading, of whether it’s accurate or not, which I think is a really positive outcome,” said Michelle Robertson, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle’s online wing, SF Gate.

Asked how she would advise aspiring journalists, Robertson focused on the need to be clear about the motivation to do the job in the first place.

“Be sure you have the passion for it,” she said. “It’s not an easy place to be if you don’t. Given the current state, it’s really hard to do.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Andersen, who also offered a word of advice regarding a would-be reporter’s state of mind.

“You’re gonna have to get a thick skin,” he warned. “If you don’t have a thick skin, you’re not going to make it in journalism.”

Passion. Toughness. Altruism. These types of attributes aren’t easy to come by. Yet, perhaps they’re worth the hard work they demand to acquire, now more than ever, in light of the current feelings Americans harbor toward the media, and the continually abrasive comments of America’s 45th president.

With such a drastic shift in our country’s view of the media over the last few decades, it might be worth revisiting a relevant opinion espoused by America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln:

“Our government rests in public opinion,” Lincoln said. “Whoever can change public opinion can change the government.”

There’s no denying both public opinion and our government have changed—and not for the better when it comes to members of the media.

What remains to be seen is how hard our current and future journalists are willing to work to change it back to good, so the fourth estate can once again embody something great.

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