While Americans focus on the coronavirus pandemic, the ongoing economic crisis, and now the presidential campaign, top Republicans in Washington are continuing to attack one of the constitutional pillars of American democracy: our free press.
America’s founders knew freedom of the press was so important that they enshrined it in the very first amendment to the United States Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791.
Since then, our nation’s free press has defended and strengthened America’s constitution and our democratic way of life by keeping government officials accountable to the public for their actions in office. The free press serves as a watchdog of America’s free society.
As a Republican former member of Congress, I have firsthand experience with the important role that journalists play, as I would face pointed questions from local reporters about my positions on key issues and votes I cast while in office.
Regardless of a reporter’s political affiliation, honest reporting of the facts helps inform the public about what actions elected representatives are taking to serve the public interest.
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Why then, are so many Republicans attacking the free press? Why does President Donald Trump call honest journalists “enemies of the people”? This is a slur that communist dictators use to justify the brutal repression of their opponents.
Such language by the president is un-American and inexcusable.
However, instead of holding the president accountable for his words, as senators should do, Republican senators tend to imitate Trump’s harmful attitudes toward the press.
For instance, in January, Republican Sen. Martha McSally (Ariz.) dismissed a reporter’s legitimate question, calling a respected reporter “a liberal hack” for asking if she would support Senate consideration of new evidence during the January impeachment trial.
If elected officials cannot, or will not, defend or explain their policies or their ideas to the news media because of personal political differences, this represents an attack on one of America’s most important institutions, and it is a dereliction of duty to ignore reporters simply because they ask uncomfortable questions.
During the pandemic, millions of Americans depend on the news media more than ever for accurate and timely public health information, yet the economic crisis has hit local newspapers especially hard, resulting in painful cutbacks in staff, print editions … and in some cases, coverage of important news.
To address this problem, four United States senators, Democrats Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), along with Republicans John Kennedy (La.) and John Boozman (Ark.), worked together this spring to ensure that local news outlets were eligible for economic relief like most other small companies are. As these senators pointed out, “ensuring that local news outlets remain viable at this critical time is not only a matter of fairness, but is essential to public health.”
As a member of Republicans for Integrity, I am thrilled that some Republicans worked with Democrats to protect our nation’s local news outlets. Such bipartisan cooperation is very important in these times.
However, since Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to consider economic relief legislation that the House passed in May, these senators were not able to advance their important efforts to help local news outlets.
Now, as we enter the final weeks of a heated campaign season, I hope that the next time senators get questions they don’t like, perhaps they should try justifying their own positions instead of attacking the reporter for the reporter’s perceived political views.
Maintaining a thriving, free press will help safeguard America’s constitutional democracy. This is a goal Americans of all political stripes should endorse.
Claudine Schneider is a Republican former United States congresswoman and is a founding member of Republicans for Integrity, which brings together Republican former members of Congress who place people before partisan politics. She works with various national, nonpartisan, watchdog organizations, and was one of the founding members of www.VoteSmart.org.