The trend is alarming: Government is cracking down on journalists, restricting their access and seizing their work.
This is happening in the United States, supposedly the bastion of a free press.
President Donald Trump’s exhortation that the news media are the enemy of the people is being taken literally. The White House has now revoked the regular press passes for dozens of journalists after already eliminating most news briefings — an unfortunate change now being copied at other federal departments — and restricting access to official events.
Even supposedly liberal San Francisco has joined in. Police raided the home and office of a freelance reporter who had obtained a confidential police report about the death of a public defender. By serving search warrants and seizing Bryan Carmody’s cameras and computers, police essentially deprived him of his ability to work.
How do we know about these developments? Because journalists reported them. That reporting is a threat to those who want the citizenry to see, hear and believe only the official, often-sanitized version of events.
Charles Blow put these developments in perspective in a New York Times column last week, writing: "The media is not the enemy of the people. The enemy of the people is ignorance — obliviousness to truth, ignoring it or having incredulity about it.
"There is no way to have a functioning democracy without a thriving press.
"One of the great missions of the press is to hold power accountable by revealing what those in power would rather hide. Corruption depends on concealment. Accountability hinges on disclosure."
Those who attack journalism rationalize their actions as being in the public good. The White House said it was culling press passes because the Secret Service was concerned about their proliferation. If so, the Trump administration could have chosen to institute a less-arbitrary review to find which press credentials no longer were being used.
San Francisco Police said they were under pressure from elected officials to investigate the report’s leak. Authorities could have subpoenaed Carmody’s records, though even that would have been counter to laws shielding reporters and their sources, as should have been pointed out to those elected officials.
In these and other instances, the government overreach is scary. It happens because officials fear the press. They should. Hard-nosed reporting has uncovered scandals from Oregon to Washington, D.C. Journalism has revealed the thousands of falsehoods emanating from the Trump administration and the dubious responses from Gov. Kate Brown’s administration on day care deaths, school report cards and other issues.
Of course, not all the news for journalism is bad. Brown has instituted fairly regular media briefings after being fairly reclusive earlier in her gubernatorial tenure. Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek holds such briefings throughout the legislative session. The Oregon Senate’s Democratic and Republican leaders met with journalists this week to discuss the stunning agreement that enabled passage of the Student Success Act and its new business tax, although the details of those negotiations remain shrouded.
Solid, accurate, thorough journalism often makes life inconvenient, even uncomfortable, for public officials. But that is the role of a good watchdog — a watchdog that needs and deserves the public’s support.