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The Briefing: Journalists fight back

WASHINGTON – What you're seeing and what you're reading is what's happening: Journalists are fighting back, "bigly," against President Trump's war on journalism.

Ever since Trump's latest attacks on the free press, at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City, Mo., on Tuesday, one journalist after another has stepped out of his or her comfort zone to object, and to state the obvious.

We are not "fake news," and we are not "the enemy of the people." And above all, it's ridiculous yet frightening to hear a president say: "What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening."

In one way or another, journalists have taken to the pages of the Washington Post and the Kansas City Star, to the CNN airwaves and to the website of Time magazine to make those points and others.

For example, Martha Raddatz of ABC News wrote an op-ed for the Post that raised concerns about whether reporters would be able to cover the important stories the military has to tell in the way they have been covered in the past, given that the president is souring how many view the media.

"We in the press are all sadly getting used to listening to some Americans booing, threatening and belittling the media at the behest of President Trump," she wrote.

The Kansas City Star, meanwhile, sought out New York University journalism professor – and Buffalo native – Jay Rosen for his thoughts. Rosen said of Trump: “His campaign is not only to discredit the news media, but it’s an attempt to undermine the notion of a common world of fact. His argument is that there’s no such thing and no one should try to persuade you that there is.”

On CNN, Anderson Cooper noted that there's an ugly precedent for this sort of thing. "For the president of the United States to tell people to stop believing what they see or what they read, it's what dictators, it's what authoritarian rulers say," he said.

And at Time magazine, Mahita Gajanan – like Cooper – noted that Trump's call for people to disbelieve what they read and hear sounded like something out of the dystopian state portrayed in George Orwell's novel "1984," where Orwell wrote: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

Defending our profession in this way is not the sort of thing we journalists relish doing, really. Most of us don't really like the focus to be on us. As a friend and colleague told me years ago when I noted the disproportionately large share of shy people who make it into journalism, "if we weren't so shy, a lot of us would be on the other side, answering the questions."

But standing up for our vocation is something we feel compelled to do, and a meme that's making the rounds these days kind of explains why.

It reads: "Journalism 101: If someone says it's raining and another person says it's dry, it's not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the (expletive deleted) window and find out which one is true."

And the truth is that the president of the United States has a reckless disregard for the truth and an obvious contempt for the First Amendment of the Constitution he was sworn to preserve, protect and defend. The 3,251 false or misleading statements he made in the first 497 days of his presidency prove it, and so did the Trump administration's recent decision to ban a CNN reporter from a White House event.

Don't say you weren't warned.

The former editor of The Buffalo News, Margaret Sullivan, was among many to issue warnings about Trump's disdain for the free press all the way back in his 2016 campaign.

And the Washington Post column she wrote shortly after Trump's election stands the test of time. In it, she said it's not just the responsibility of journalists to protect the free press, but also the responsibility of every American.

"For journalists, it’s writing and reporting aggressively and fearlessly, and being willing to fight for access," she wrote. "For citizens, it’s being well-informed, including subscribing to newspapers and supporting the best journalism. It’s helping to debunk and call out fake news. It’s donating to, or getting involved with, civil rights and media rights organizations. And it’s backing public officials committed to protecting free expression."

That's more important now than ever, because, in fact, what you're seeing and what you're reading is what's happening. A fundamental American freedom is under attack, and the president is leading the charge.

Happening today

The House officially begins its summer recess, which lasts until Sept. 4. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan speaks at an event sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center ... The Arms Control Association holds a briefing on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula ... The United States Institute of Peace holds a discussion called "Faith and Fragile States: Political Stability and Religious Freedom" ... The Conservative Women's Network holds a discussion on "Women and Self-Defense: The Right to Be Armed."

Good reads

The New York Times tells us that special prosecutor Robert Mueller is examining President Trump's tweets to see if they provide evidence of obstruction of justice ... The Washington Post says Trump is trying to punt three big issues to after the fall election ... Politico says Trump is rushing to invest in the campaigns of endangered House Republicans ... The Atlantic calls Mike Pompeo "secretary of a state of confusion" ... And the conservative Weekly Standard says the Rod Rosenstein impeachment is a sham.


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