This is a milestone day in the world of journalism. Namely because, about 350 news organizations across America are printing op-ed pieces today in response to President Trump’s unabated charge that journalists are “an enemy of the people.” Since BoomerCafé itself was founded by two journalists, we are jumping on that bandwagon, as lifelong journalist Greg Dobbs provides a personal response to the president’s impeachment of his profession.
I am an enemy of the people.
I guess I always was, even when covering the violent revolution in Iran for ABC News. It was dangerous reporting from Iran but it was important. It was the only way Americans would know what was going on in that critical country. A mob with machetes chased my camera crew and me, I was beaten at an Islamic cemetery, I had a colleague killed right next to me; Joe Alex Morris of the Los Angeles Times. He must have been an enemy of the people too.
I also apparently was an enemy of the people when I barely made it over a shard-encrusted wall fleeing from a firefight that entrapped us between murderous militias in Beirut, while another colleague climbing the wall wasn’t so lucky and died scrawling the names of his children in his own blood. That was Canadian correspondent Clark Todd. Another enemy of the people, no doubt.
I must have been an enemy of the people when I waded through dioxin-laced mud to report on the legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam, and when my crew and I, embedded with the Colombian anti-narcotics army fighting in the U.S.-funded drug war, had to hotfoot it from gunmen in a steamy jungle during a raid-gone-bad.
There I was, reporting to the people, even though I was their enemy.
Obviously I was an enemy of the people when I got death threats from an American arms dealer I tracked down in Libya, and when I lived in a room running with rats and cockroaches during the war to oust tyrant Idi Amin from Uganda, and when I laid for hours in a swamp aside a runway at Bagram Airport measuring Soviet air power during their invasion of Afghanistan, and when I slept on the desert floor with scorpions popping out of the sand all around me during the Gulf War.
All so the American people would know what was going on.
Then there’s Daniel Pearl, beheaded in Pakistan. And James Foley, who lost his head in Syria. And Marie Colvin, blown apart by Syrian shells. More enemies in our midst.
Apparently by the lights of President Trump, we who leave our families and deal with despicable despots and risk our lives to bring America news about the nature of its enemies and the threats to our security are now the enemies ourselves.
Trump has complained that when he attacks journalists, “They always bring up the First Amendment.” How frustrating that must be for someone who can’t stomach criticism but, because of the Constitution, can’t abolish it. The fact is, this is part of the media’s role: to expose anything, from a public official’s incurious ignorance to his malicious misrepresentations to his polarizing polemics to his flat-out lies.
Donald Trump doesn’t have a clue. He has the most easily offended ego on Earth, but he doesn’t have a clue. No surprise, perhaps, for a guy who pathetically professed during his presidential campaign that he got his information — on military issues, foreign affairs, etc. — “from the shows.” We do know though from his tweets that he follows the news; it keeps him up at night.
Alarmingly, Trump does have weapons to use against the enemy. Like barring his least favorite news organizations (and thus their audiences) from White House briefings. And “opening up our libel laws so we can sue them and win lots of money.” And inhibiting an indispensable tool: the use of “confidential” sources that has in the past exposed everything from the crimes of Watergate to the false premises of the Iraq War. Trump demands of journalists, “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name.” Ironic, coming from the guy who perpetuated the Obama “birther” myth and pinned it on “an extremely credible source.”
Disliking journalists who aren’t his sycophants is one thing. Discrediting them is another. But as he has with judges, intelligence officials, and political critics of any color (especially, it seems these days, when their color is black), President Trump is doing his best to make the media into an enemy of the people. “A great danger to our country” is how he has described us. Or more recently, “Dangerous and sick.” The media, he even tweeted earlier this month, “can also cause war.” As if, in matters of war, he has been a paragon of prudence.
What really scares me and ought to scare you is not just the president’s perverted perception of journalists, but his aspirations to subdue them: “We’re going to do something about it,” he once threatened. That is the language you hear from leaders in dictatorships, not democracies.
If Donald Trump called us the enemy of the people only once, that would be Trump being Trump. But it hasn’t been just once; it has become almost incessant. If this thin-skinned president succeeds in stifling a free press, then he is the enemy of the people. Not us.
Greg’s book about the wacky ways of a foreign correspondent, Life in the Wrong Lane, is available from Amazon.