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The press is not the enemy of the people

There may be a president who loved the media. It would be impossible to find one with a sustained romance with the press.

Maybe the shortest serving president in history, William Henry Harrison who died of pneumonia a month after his inauguration, left this early plain thinking good thoughts of newspapers that published inaugural address before he succumbed. The story goes that his death resulted from his standing in a cold rain to deliver that address outdoors without a hat in a pouring spring rain.

In the 1790s, direct action was taken by the government against a Philadelphia newspaper, the Aurora. In his book, American Aurora, Richard Rosenfeld tells the little known history of a time when editors of that paper had to work hard to keep the Founding Fathers true to their mission.

"Rosenfeld has chosen as his heroes its two young editors, Benjamin Bache, Benjamin Franklin's grandson, and William Duane, who fearlessly waged a decade-long campaign to keep America's Founding Fathers true to their original mission.

They claimed that George Washington was not the true "father of his country," but a completely incompetent commander-in-chief, and that John Adams, his presidential successor, wanted a monarchy and was plotting to be king. As a result of their inflammatory articles, both editors were arrested. Bache died awaiting trial, and the paper was briefly silenced..."

Not a shining moment in presidential history, but an instructive one. The press must stand up to the government. Else it is little more than a happy talk newsletter from the Capitol City.

American Aurora teaches the lesson that even close to the liberation of the American democracy, it remains fragile. A vigilant press is a necessity.

In modern times, only Richard Nixon comes close to the disdain that the present occupier of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has for the media. Nixon did it in secret. Donald Trump is open and unambiguous. He has no use for press that is critical.

Candidate Donald J. Trump in his campaign would point out his press entourage at rallies for the scorn of his supporters. For people who felt only one station listened to them and shared news of note with them, sneering and hissing at reporters for the MSM (mainstream media) had to be cathartic.

Now that he is president, Mr. Trump continues to point out the media for the scorn of his supporters. The medium of choice is Twitter, that quirky Internet application that limits brilliance to 140 characters - not words, not letters. Characters.

Twitter allows the President to get his thoughts directly in front of millions of followers instantly. It also guarantees that his exact thoughts will fit on the PowerPoint screens of network and cable news channels. It is a bit difficult for his spokespeople to do the "what he meant to say" tap dance when 140 characters flash on the wall behind them. What he meant to say he said.

As Chris Wallace of Fox News told Reince Preibus, Trump's chief of staff, in a testy exchange, while all presidents hate the media, none have gone as far as Preibus' boss. When Preibus dragged out the excuse that Obama criticized Fox, Wallace was having none of it. Yes, Obama criticized Fox and Fox criticized Obama. But nothing like calling the press the enemy of the American people.

All politicians (and all presidents are politicians, their protestations to the contrary) recognize that they need the media. They also recognize that the democracy needs a free press. It's why the sainted Founders (oh, holy be their names) put a prohibition against abridging freedom of the press in the First Amendment. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are the only two rights that precede the press. Following rapidly on are the rights to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The text of the First Amendment is as important today as it was when the editors of Aurora were imprisoned for exercising the right to criticize the government. As Rosenfeld points out in his book:

"Nonetheless, the Aurora was eventually successful in persuading the nation to oust Adams and to usher in a Jeffersonian democracy, of which Benjamin Franklin, the true father of our country, could only dream...."

The press is not the enemy of the American people as Mr. Trump has tweeted. The press, in all its forms and when it is right and even when it is wrong, is necessary to a free society.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. - See more at: http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment1.html#sthash.Z4bMXSvn.dpuf
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. - See more at: http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment1.html#sthash.Z4bMXSvn.dpuf
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. - See more at: http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment1.html#sthash.Z4bMXSvn.dpuf

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