OPINION: We need a free press

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The role of a free press is vital to the sustainability of a democracy. Without a free press, there is no watchdog of the government informing the public of corruption, perjury and other illegal activities by our elected officials. However, it appears this isn’t a concern to the Trump administration.

In late January, Stephen Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, lambasted the media, saying “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while .. the media here is the opposition party.”

A few weeks later, Trump reiterated that sentiment, tweeting: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

Comments like these by our president and other high-ranking government officials are not normal and should not be taken lightly. Leaders of democracies, no matter how much they may disagree with what is being reported, do not attack the press in their country with such vitriol as the current administration is doing.

Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, correctly states that the goal of the Trump administration’s war on the press is “(to) delegitimize mainstream news organizations, especially those that produce critical reporting that jeopardizes its efforts, while lifting up unabashed propaganda outlets.”

The danger of “fake news”

The use of “fake news” has been popularized by our president as a weapon to delegitimize journalists and entire news organizations that report on anything critical of him and his administration.

When Trump calls out CNN, The New York Times or whomever for being “fake news” and refuses to take questions from their reporters, it makes it incredibly difficult to get details on a new bill or executive order or hold him accountable for misuse of his powers. I cannot emphasize how dangerous this is to our democracy.

What makes all of this even more terrifying is this strategy is now spreading among other government officials. On Tuesday, The Hill reported “Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) took to the House floor … to dismiss a Washington Post fact check about his claims of voter fraud as a ‘fake news hit piece.’”

Let’s quickly define what fake news actually is, as the definition has become twisted. Amol Rajan, media editor for the BBC, perfectly defines fake news as “false information deliberately circulated by those who have scant regard for the truth but hope to advance particular (often extreme) political causes and make money out of online traffic.”

CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post are the main targets of Trump and his supporters for being “fake news,” while Breitbart and Fox News are apparently good news sources. The problem with this is that the former as a whole are not spreading false reports and claims in an attempt to push a political agenda — they report on both Democrats and Republicans when they abuse their power — while the latter clearly is.

I’ve already touched on Fox News and won’t go into that mess again. But if you need an example of how Breitbart is actually fake news, look no further than their report that Trump tweeted about recently, claiming that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. This is a conspiracy theory with no real evidence and the director of the FBI, James Comey, even asked the Justice Department to publicly denounce this insidious and ridiculous claim.

Mainstream news is sensational, not fake

I get it if you don’t like the mainstream news media (CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS) because I’m not a huge fan either. But it isn’t because I think they’re “fake news,” as they do not spread falsehoods for the purpose of advancing a political agenda. It’s because they’re sensationalists.

The owners of these mega-conglomerate, 24/7 news organizations are primarily concerned with garnering more views and increasing their profits. Reporting on a bill that would weaken the Glass-Steagall Act, which would affect millions of Americans and help lead to another financial disaster, isn’t going to attract as many eyeballs compared to a sex scandal like former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner.

However, while I’m not fond of the mainstream news media, I do trust them when they present sufficient evidence and their stories can be corroborated, which is in stark contrast to the rest of the U.S. public. Only 31 percent of liberal Democrats say they have a lot of trust in the news reported by the national news media, compared with 13 percent of conservative Republicans.

Our news media needs to do a better job of gaining the public’s trust back and reporting on serious issues like wealth inequality and not sensationalist things like CNN with their coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Protect the free press

But in the meantime, we cannot allow our free press to be torn apart just because they’re sensationalist or that we don’t always agree with what they report.

Steven Smethers, associate director for undergraduate studies in the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State, expressed great concern about protecting the free press.

“This is not just about the media,” Smethers said. “This is about us, all of us, being able to have trusted communication sources that help us manage our daily lives and participate in democracy. That is what’s at stake here.”

Caleb Snider is a sophomore in public relations. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.