In classrooms and in our student newsroom, we, young journalists, are learning what “truth” means.
Though often unclear and hotly debated, having consensus on what is true is vital, whether at UF or in D.C. Even when facts feel fuzzy, one thing is too neon to ignore: the current presidential administration is caustic to a free and independent press. We can no longer merely denounce it; we cannot sit by and write about the erosion of the First Amendment, we must act to preserve it. We at The Alligator encourage you to make a concrete move to defend truth. Support local journalism, speak out when it is threatened and exercise your sacred right to vote.
Throughout our national history, the press — whether in print, radio, TV or even Snapchat — has been a safeguard against abuse of authority. It was Morley Safer, a war correspondent, whose battlefield reporting first gave us an uncensored view of the Vietnam War. He exposed atrocities committed by U.S. troops, when the President Lyndon B. Johnson administration turned a blind eye. His reporting, one hundred years after Lincoln, sparked an anti-war movement and changed America forever. It was CBS who spoke truth when the president told a lie, as presidents habitually do. Today, it is journalists who call out questions, investigate further and push limits to find truth where it is hard to.
This is why we are speaking out today about our current president, and his administration, who have called the news media “the enemy of the people.” President Donald Trump has berated, belittled and denigrated the press with vigor. It is no secret why he should attack the truth-tellers so vehemently, as he has so much trouble telling it himself. The president has made 4,229 false or misleading claims to date since taking office, according to The Washington Post. Any person or group who stands to expose the president’s flagrant and audacious lies, such as his inauguration crowd size, is the enemy in his eyes.
This inflammatory language, calling us “very dangerous” is, in itself, a risk — a blink of an eye from toppling a free press and democracy soon thereafter.
“Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban,” George Orwell wrote in the preface to Animal Farm. The president’s rallies and chants of “lock them up” have injected a hateful view of the media into the mainstream. These words have made it excusable to harass, intimidate and threaten journalists. We must remember that a free press is not crippled quickly but rather word by word, and, today, tweet by tweet.
Government oppression of free speech is an old and tired subject. The very first newspaper of the thirteen colonies, published in Boston in 1690, did not make it to its second edition before it was censored. It is now, therefore, our duty and privilege to join The Boston Globe, still circulated in the birthplace of American press, and censorship, as well as newspapers across the country, in publishing editorials about the importance of our First Amendment rights today.
We invite you to continue participating by reading The Alligator, writing letters to the editor and supporting other local journalism. We may not be perfect, and may stumble, but we must not and will not falter in illuminating darkness, from Gainesville to Washington, D.C.
President Donald Trump speaks at Fort Drum, N.Y., Monday, Aug. 13, 2018, before a signing ceremony for a $716 billion defense policy bill named for Sen. John McCain. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)