By Hannah Schultz, Executive Editor
For anyone following the strangely mesmerizing train wreck that is Donald Trump’s twitter, he shared a familiar insight at 2:20 a.m. on Sept. 30: “Anytime you see a story about me or my campaign saying ‘sources said,’ DO NOT believe it. There are no sources, they are just made up lies!”
This came just before The New York Times published an article on Oct. 1 that includes segments of his 1995 tax returns and suggests he could have avoided paying federal income taxes for 18 years. In response, Trump’s lawyers threatened “prompt initiation of appropriate legal action.”
But is what The New York Times did wrong? They obtained records through legal means and did their due diligence by interviewing Trump’s accountant. This is not a case of libel, as Trump is an exception as a public figure and political candidate. Yet, instances in which news outlets have fact-checked Trump’s statements into oblivion or revealed defaming parts of his past have sparked emotional appeals to the inaccuracy and prejudice of the “liberal media.”
At a press conference in May, Trump was blatant: “The press should be ashamed of itself. You make me look bad.”
What Trump seems to misunderstand is the purpose of the media: to act as one of the government’s —and society’s — checks and balances. It isn’t a journalist’s job to skip over the fact checks or investigative pieces for the sake of someone’s reputation.
The First Amendment protects this freedom of the media to access and share information without the interference of an overreaching government.
Before the First Amendment, as in present-day countries like communist North Korea, the British monarchy charged “rebellious journalists” with seditious libel, or publishing information opposed to the government.
It isn’t a journalist’s job to skip over the fact checks or investigative pieces for the sake of someone’s reputation.
This issue came to a head in the American colonies in 1735, during the trial of John Peter Zenger. He was arrested for printing statements in the New York Weekly Journal that were critical of a corrupt governor.
Andrew Hamilton, one of the most distinguished lawyers in the colonies, spoke in Zenger’s defense.
“It is not the cause of one poor printer, nor of New York alone, which you are now trying,” Hamilton said. “It is the best cause. It is the cause of liberty.”
The jury acquitted Zenger after hearing Hamilton’s claim that no one should be punished for printing the truth — even if it damaged the government’s reputation.
This freedom of the press has stood the test of time. Americans all across the country turn to the news media each day to share opinions, reveal corruption and gather information.
However, reporting is not always an easy task. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, Americans’ trust in the media is at a historical low: only one in four Americans has trust and confidence in the mass media.
Though Asbury is somewhat contained in its “bubble,” distrust of the media even permeates our contained Christian community. As a Collegian member since freshmen year, it is shocking the number of times I have been denied a quote from professors or staff members about even the most mundane subject with a dismissing, “I don’t speak to the press.”
The goal of journalism should align with our Christian values: revealing the truth to others. Good journalism is about accountability and keeping the public informed about issues that could affect their lives and influence their decisions.
Though it may be easy to demonize the media as an institution that delves into difficult-to-address topics, never take for granted the First Amendment and the clarity that the media allows the masses.
“Every man who prefers freedom to a life of slavery will bless and honor you as men who have baffled the attempt of tyranny,” Hamilton said in defense of our freedom of the press over 250 years ago, “and. . .have laid a noble foundation for securing to ourselves, our posterity, and our neighbors, that to which nature and the laws of our country have given us a right to liberty of both exposing and opposing arbitrary power by speaking and writing truth.”