Editor's note: In an effort initiated by the Boston Globe opinion staff, scores of American editorial boards today are joining their voices in responding to President Donald Trump's relentless denigration of the American news media. Below, the Star Tribune Editorial Board's contribution:
Let's start with a fundamental truth: It is and always has been in the interests of the powerful to dismiss and discredit those who could prove a check on their power. President Donald Trump is not the first politician to openly attack the media for fulfilling its watchdog role. He is, perhaps, the most blatant and relentless about it.
To this president, the journalist's time-honored role in a democracy is meaningless. Reporters present a fact-finding counter to the fanciful narrative Trump spins daily.
It is evident by now that Trump's perpetual grievance with the press is not a function of temper or thin skin. What Trump calls "fake news" is mostly information and views with which he is uncomfortable — the revelation of lies, the contradiction of misinformation. He is not alone in this. Authoritarian leaders in other countries regularly threaten, punish and imprison reporters who challenge the ruling regime's line. Journalists from such countries who visit America have marveled at the freedom and safety afforded American reporters as they do their jobs.
That freedom is vital to democracy, which depends on an informed electorate. The founders of this nation understood that. They built strong First Amendment protections for a press that in their day was savagely partisan, with few pretensions to neutrality. Journalists' role, then as now, was to be a check on power, one that was not controlled by government — and constitutionally could not be. Journalists go where citizens often cannot, and are able to ask all the loud, messy, uncomfortable questions politicians would rather not answer, to shine a light in dark corners.
As Trump has ramped up his attacks on the press, even calling reporters "the enemy of the people," he increasingly is leading his supporters to identify with powerful elites, who have an interest in shrouding their motives and actions, rather than with those empowered by the First Amendment to ferret out information on the public's behalf.
That is a threat to the democracy we have known and, as populations in other countries know too well, a fateful step on the road to authoritarianism. That is why, on this one day, newspapers across the country are taking the extraordinary step of presenting a unified front, to demand that journalists be allowed to do their jobs, without threat, without intimidation. To declare that such freedom must extend from the local reporter covering a small-town school board meeting to the White House press corps.
Minnesota journalists have faced this kind of strategic grudge match before, when former Gov. Jesse Ventura, a one-time wrestler, did his best to make a foil out of the state's Capitol press corps, even labeling them, Trump-style, as "media jackals" and raging at stories that pushed on his vulnerabilities. The reporters are still here, still doing the job, still asking impertinent questions. And Ventura? He's part of the media. The Russian media, that is, a commentator on RT, a Kremlin-funded network formerly known as Russia Today.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board is confident that the nation's journalists will withstand Trump's assaults, and that the American public will continue to see the wisdom of this country's founders in ensuring a strong, independent press that can lift the corner on whatever the powerful are trying to hide.