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Editorial: Stand in defense of the truth. Don't let Trump label journalists as 'the enemy'

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Critics fear Trump's style eclipses substance on North Korea

President Trump listens to Uzbekistan president Shavkat Mirziyoyev during a meeting in the Oval Office. Jabin Botsford/Washington Post.

An estimated 200 newspapers across the country are devoting editorial space on Thursday to a joint appeal for President Donald Trump to cease and desist with his attacks on the news media. By labeling journalists as “the enemy of the people,” Trump turns reporters into potential targets and degrades the importance of the work we all do.

We in the news media stand together in an appeal for sanity. When Trump labels us as the enemy, he issues an open invitation for extremists to engage in direct confrontation and potential violence. Trump eggs on his supporters at rallies, pointing back to the press pool. Within seconds, reporters find themselves hounded, berated and threatened.

Trump is hardly the only president to face news media scrutiny. A cursory search of “Bill Clinton” and “Monica Lewinsky” in Post-Dispatch archives came up with more than 2,900 references. When we plugged in the former president’s name and “Whitewater” — the real estate scandal that engulfed Clinton’s administration from 1994 through 1998 — nearly 3,800 references popped up. It’s worth noting that the federal probe of Clinton began only after The New York Times published an exposé of the scandal in 1992.

Trump would have Americans believe that he’s a victim of a witch hunt fueled by a vindictive and out-of-control news media. More often than not, it’s journalists’ reporting of Trump’s actual words and deeds that sends his administration scrambling for excuses, scapegoats and diversions — such as his attacks on the messengers.

There was no “fake news” in Trump’s utterances in a 2005 recording about his belief that male stars get to sexually abuse women. There was no fake news when he attacked the parents of a fallen U.S. soldier during the 2016 Republican National Convention. Trump alone is responsible for his harsh rhetoric about immigrants, those with disabilities, minorities and women. Trump alone is responsible for his remarks defending white supremacists. But if journalists inconvenience him by quoting his exact words, they get labeled as enemies of the people.

The president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, has been gracious enough to state publicly that, even though she has her own complaints about coverage she’s received, “I do not feel that the media is the enemy of the people.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refuses to do likewise, citing the skewering she received by a comedian performing at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Comedian Michelle Wolf’s remarks were low-blow, unfair attacks on Sanders’ appearance. They were not funny. We have major issues with the star-studded spectacle that the event has become. Sanders has every right to criticize the dinner. But that doesn’t equate even remotely with “enemy of the people.”

Most of the reports Trump labels as fake are verifiable fact, yet he tends to embrace Infowars-style nonsense as the “truth,” often retweeting it. Americans, even in the Trump era, look to their president for moral guidance. When Trump misleads them with untruthful characterizations — a running Washington Post count numbers 4,229 lies — while portraying the truth as “fake,” he succeeds only in confusing the public and sowing the seeds of chaos.

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Journalists serve on the front lines in the war to protect democracy and transparent governance. The truth is embarrassing. The truth hurts, as Bill Clinton can attest. Journalists who deliver the truth to the American public are not enemies, they are the truest of patriots.

Trump is inflicting massive, and perhaps irreparable, damage to democracy with these attacks. This will end only if Republicans stop trying to defend Trump’s harsh rhetoric and join Democrats and independents in calling for him to stop.

When journalists stop doing their job, ignorance, dictatorship, corruption and abuse will certainly flourish across the land. If you love this country and our constitutional freedoms, it is your duty as an American patriot to stand in defense of news media and stand against Trump’s dirty war on the truth.

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