Bob Franken


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I’m about to antagonize a bunch of my cohorts, particularly those who took part in Thursday’s organized cluster fuss.
Did you see them? They were hard to miss. On Thursday, more than 350 newspapers, columnists and bloggers — and a bunch of TV types, for bad measure — wrote and spoke about their strenuous objections to President Donald Trump’s constant verbal assaults on those who cover him, or as he prefers to call them, the “fake news” people.
Did you see what I had to say in response to his abusive harassment? If you answered “no,” that’s the correct response. I did not join this coordinated group whimper. Frankly, I believe all those who did blundered.
First of all, we shouldn’t be participating in a coordinated anything with each other. All that does is play into Trump’s hands when he charges that most of us are part of the “deep state” establishment joining to take him down. In fact, his response on Twitter was predictable: We are all an organized “opposition party” and, get this, “in collusion,” which turns the accusations against him and the Russians inside out. Do we really want to give him such an opening?
And do we really want to add fuel to his plan to inflame his base when he shouts or tweets his Stalinesque accusation that we are “enemies of the people” who could even “cause war”? It could be dismissed as mindless ranting, but it’s actually calculated to inoculate him from anything but flattering coverage. We really should see this heckling designed to intimidate us for what it is: pathetic and juvenile taunting. The more anyone takes notice, the more the schoolyard tormenter keeps at it. So, we play right into his hands.

Anyone else would just be ignored, but this crass ruffian is, after all, the president of the United States, and whatever he says is amplified by his “bully pulpit” — certainly an appropriate term with this guy. How should we respond? By aggressively doing our job and fearlessly reporting on him and his administration, even when he has a hissy fit — which, of course, he will; he always does.
As for the danger when he whips up his mob, we need to suck it up. Journalists follow the story wherever it takes us, sometimes to our great peril. We’re not only on location at wartime battlefields, but here at home, we face the hazards of social protests that turn violent, not just from the rioters, but also from the minority of furious cops who turn on us to block access. Those situations are no less hairy than covering a bunch of frenzied supporters at one of his rallies. On occasion, those who have been urged on by Trump’s haranguing and decide to harass reporters, often end up jovially asking those same reporters to pose for selfies.
As for the danger to our nation from this president’s discrediting of the press, the First Amendment has survived other demagogues before, even those who prefer being autocrats.
Lastly, we have the normal human tendency to exaggerate our importance in the grand scheme of things. Such an orchestrated effort to highlight our role in the Trump debacle is probably not proportional when you consider all the other ways he and his peeps cause severe societal damage. Better to put spotlights on Trump’s global warming actions, trade or immigration policies, which really endanger the planet, to say nothing of a war erupting because of his amateurish miscalculation or some rash tweet. A focus on ourselves might well be considered self-centered, as in: “Gee — look at us, the noble protectors of society. We are so brave.”
Let’s not belittle how vital reporting and analysis are to a democracy. Without an informed electorate, our system of government withers and ultimately dies. An egomaniacal Donald Trump wants to take away the credibility of an independent press. By acting in concert, we make his job easier.

© 2018 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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