More than 200 news organizations across the nation are publishing editorials Thursday denouncing President Donald Trump for his venomous views of much of the news media.
Count Honolulu Civil Beat among them.
Critical reporting is emphatically not, as Trump seemingly implies when he cast journalists as “enemies of the people,” a form of treason.
The kind of work that Civil Beat and other independent press perform day after day — asking tough questions, pushing to make government more open, holding public officials accountable for actions that affect average citizens — is the bread and butter of democracy.
Attacking reporters and news organizations is as old as our republic. But the level to which Trump has taken those verbal assaults has reached new, dangerous levels.
That’s why so many journalism organizations — from small-town newspapers to nonprofit journalism sites to the The New York Times — feel it is imperative to stand up publicly against the bullying from the White House and in support of the value of a free press.
We understand that speaking out against the president’s rhetoric risks the appearance of taking his bait.
But Trump has weaponized his crusade to a degree that it threatens the ability of the media to do its job effectively.
Another poll released in July showed 45 percent of Republicans surveyed favored giving the government power to shut down “biased” or “inaccurate” media organizations.
We also fear that it is only a matter of time before someone gets hurt, given the brutal verbal assaults on reporters covering Trump’s political rallies. It’s no wonder that our president seems to identify with autocrats and despots in Russia, Turkey and the Philippines, where journalists are routinely jailed and even assassinated.
At home, national reporters covering the administration routinely face threats and abuses on social media.
But the angry tone coming from the White House impacts those of us covering local news far from the polarized politics of Washington, D.C. Even in Hawaii, media including Civil Beat are experiencing a notable ramping up of rhetoric against the press.
The principle of an independent press is just as important in Hawaii as it is elsewhere.
That’s why we are proud to report on the City Council or government agencies or businesses in a fair and impartial manner. We have no obligations to any special interest, and we strive to maintain high journalistic ethics and standards. We’re certainly fair game for criticism of our mistakes or excesses. But our reporters and editors go to great lengths to get the facts right.
Civil Beat’s manifesto clearly states our mission:
We need to be unafraid to challenge the status quo. We need to insist on honest, ethical and effective government at all levels. We need to keep an eye on the people in power and act on behalf of those who find themselves powerless. That means we need to be a watchdog of business interests in addition to government. We can’t be afraid to question the actions or motives of those in positions of influence, whether in the private or public sector.
That’s not an anti-Trump stance and its certainly not unpatriotic. That’s our job.
Sue Cross, the executive director of the Institute for Nonprofit News of which Civil Beat is a member, aptly summed up what’s at stake not just for the press, but for the public.
“The ‘news media’ isn’t some monolithic thing. It’s a voice of your community, and you can be part of it. We hope you will. Because a free press doesn’t belong to the President. It belongs to you.”
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell and Landess Kearns. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.