Last weekend in Nuevo Laredo, columnist and investigative reporter Carlos Dominguez was waiting at a traffic light with his son, his daughter-in-law and his grandchildren when men armed with knives flung open the car door.
The Los Angeles Times reports Dominguez was stabbed 21 times. He joined the 11 Mexican journalists slain in 2017 while fighting drug cartels and public corruption, attempting to do what may be impossible now, which is to prevent a failed state on America’s southern flank.
Worldwide, 80 journalists were murdered in 2017, and another 326 were detained by authorities. Both those numbers are down, mostly because a number of failed states like Syria are too dangerous, and the press has pulled back.
I write about this today because two Arizona Republicans had the courage to call out President Donald Trump for branding the American press “enemies of the people” and to write off mainstream press as “fake news.” As a journalist, an American and a patriot, I’ve conveyed to my friends who support Trump how utterly offensive to us it is for an American president to so recklessly brand one of the key pillars of democracy.
We could play the fill-in-the-blank game: How would you feel if someone called lobbyists “enemies of the American people”? Or cops? Or Republicans? Or Sikhs? Or Jews? You get the point.
So we find ourselves at the surreal end of Trump’s first year in office, and watch that two Republicans, including the 2008 presidential nominee John McCain, have to step up and stand for dignity utterly lacking in this White House. This is a president who has conveyed lies, falsehoods or misstatements 2,000 times, according to the Washington Post fact checker.
The difference between this president and the media is when we get a fact wrong, it’s corrected. This president sticks with his “alternative facts.”
“President Trump does not seem to understand that his rhetoric and actions reverberate,” McCain writes. “He has threatened to continue his attempt to discredit the free press by bestowing ‘fake news awards’ upon reporters and news outlets whose coverage he disagrees with. Whether Trump knows it or not, these efforts are being closely watched by foreign leaders who are already using his words as cover as they silence and shutter one of the key pillars of democracy.”
McCain continues, “Trump’s attempts to undermine the free press also make it more difficult to hold repressive governments accountable. For decades, dissidents and human rights advocates have relied on independent investigations into government corruption to further their fight for freedom. Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely. Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom.”
Axios reported, “Leaders or state media in at least 15 countries have used the term ‘fake news’ to try to quell dissent or defuse questions about human rights violations. The real problem with ‘fake news’ is that people don't believe real news. That's terrible for society and democracy, making good decisions less likely.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, a former kindred conservative friend of Vice President Mike Pence, is retiring after unrelenting criticism from Trump. He compared the president to the Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin. Think about this for a minute: A Republican senator is comparing the American president to Stalin.
“Mr. President, near the beginning of the document that made us free, our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident…’” Flake began. “So, from our very beginnings, our freedom has been predicated on truth.”
Flake continued, noting that “2017 was a year which saw the truth — objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine ‘alternative facts’ into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. ‘The enemy of the people,’ was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.
“Mr. President,” Flake then said, “it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use.”
In Flake’s view, his own Republican Party is complicit and enabling these assaults.
Flake summoned the warning of “1984” author George Orwell: “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”
I’ve had Hoosier Republicans question why I write the way I do about Trump. My consistent response is that he lies all the time, and he runs an operation so unprofessional that it is unbecoming to the White House where the best and brightest among us should be toiling to preserve the cornerstones of democracy.