OPINION COLUMNS

Criticism: it’s part of the presidential package

By Racey Burden | Published Saturday, January 21, 2017
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The day that I wrote this column was inauguration day, but I really didn’t intend to write about politics. It’s kind of hard to think about anything else though, when all I’ve been seeing on any news feed all day long is Trump.

Racey Burden

Racey Burden

I outlined many reasons for my strong dislike of our new president in the column I wrote immediately following the election. That column received, surprisingly enough, a mostly supportive response, even in the midst of GOP-land. I know the vast majority of people in Wise disagree with my politics, so I appreciate that anyone bothered to read it at all.

I have to say now, on this inauguration day, that nothing I have seen from President Trump so far makes me feel any better about the next four years. Most of his cabinet appointments befuddle me (and some give me outright anxiety, like Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions). His chief strategist Steve Bannon formerly ran Breitbart, which he proclaimed to be “the platform of the alt-right” – by the way, the Associated Press has released a clarification that the views of the alt-right are to be referred to as white supremacy. Trump still won’t release his tax returns. His praise of Vladimir Putin coupled with his distrust of the American intelligence community is confounding.

But the thing about Trump I want to talk about right now is the way he responds to criticism.

It’s painfully clear how thin-skinned he is. Just look at his Twitter (the Donald J. Trump twitter. The POTUS account is brand new, and will hopefully be run by an aide with better judgment). He tweets at “Saturday Night Live” after almost every performance to vent about how unfair Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of him is. SNL is a comedy sketch show. Why can’t he just ignore them? He tried to feud with the cast of the Broadway show “Hamilton” over a speech they made to Vice President Mike Pence. Pence openly stated he was not offended by the speech. Most recently Trump went after John Lewis, a civil rights icon, the same weekend we should have all been celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Trump now calls any news that doesn’t favor him “fake news.” Now, fake news (outright lies is the better way to describe it) is a real problem, and I see it clutter my Facebook feed all the time, from both sides of the political spectrum. But I found Trump’s first press conference troubling in the way he reacted to a question from Jim Acosta at CNN by outright accusing Acosta and the network of being fake news. CNN is not the best place to get news, in my opinion, but they’re definitely above Buzzfeed, the organization that actually published the unverified dossier on Trump and Russia that the president was so upset about. Acosta had a legitimate question and a right to ask it – press conferences are open for a reason.

The root of the problem is that Trump has already insulted so many news outlets because he doesn’t like the way they report his words and actions, and it won’t be long until everything is fake news to him. If the president starts to pick and choose who gets access to him at press conferences, taking questions only from Fox or, far worse, Breitbart, then we have a huge problem. If he kicks the press out of the White House altogether – which is possible – we have an enormous problem.

See, it’s not the media’s responsibility to be kind to the president and offer him praise. Obama was criticized, even by what people view as the liberal media (look at stories on his foreign policy, problems with the ACA, failure to close Guantanamo Bay, etc.).

Trump has done many things before even taking office that are worthy of heavy criticism. He needs to be held accountable. The press is one of the best ways to keep a fire under those in power, but they have to be allowed to do their job. They need to be able to speak directly to the man who’s now in charge of our country. As a journalist, I’m well aware we don’t get it right every time, but freedom of the press is always important. It’s more important now than ever, when facing a president who by all indications doesn’t care about accuracy or facts one bit.

To question the commander in chief isn’t un-American. I would argue it’s un-American to just let him do whatever he wants, no questions asked. But you don’t have to just take my word for it. President Theodore Roosevelt once wrote a 1918 editorial published in the Kansas City Star defending his critiques of how President Woodrow Wilson was handling World War I. In that editorial Roosevelt wrote, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

I, for one, will continue to level what I feel are fair criticisms against our president. I hope my fellow journalists, and my fellow citizens, do the same.

Racey Burden is a Messenger reporter.

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