Fight the Power: The history between presidents and the press has always been tense.

Author:Gallagher, Tim
Position:Business of news

Many in the news media would have you believe that President Trump's verbal assaults on the press are the first-ever and worst-ever. Far be it from me to do defend this White House but calling relations with this president the poorest because he calls us "the enemy of the people" ignores more than 200 years of testy relationships between the president and the press.

Most of the editors and reporters at American newspapers will never have to deal with the White House, but we all deal with local officials who want to take on the local media. With that in mind, here are some famous President and Press Prizefights, how they translate to the local level, and how we can hold our own in the fight.

When the politician uses the law fight like crazy. John Adams, our second president, pushed the 1798 Sedition Act that made it a crime to criticize the government. Prisons would be crowded with journalists had not the next president, Thomas Jefferson, done away with it.

Most local newspapers have suffered from some legislative act or administrative decision to punish the press. In today's world of reduced profits, First Amendments and freedom of information battles are declining as newspapers won't spend on legal fees. Yet nearly every state has a press association or a major university with a communications center willing to battle those politicians who would use a law to silence critics. Use them. And use your own news pages to relentlessly battle for open government.

They all whine. Let them. Most are familiar with William Satire's press description written for Vice President Spiro Agnew--"the nattering nabobs of negativism." Agnew tried to swat the press back on its heels and it worked as part of President Nixon's strategy of appealing to "the silent majority."

But it was nothing more than a tactic designed to get the press to ease up. Local politicians try this as well. They may talk about how your coverage is tearing apart the community, about how we all need to work together for "the good of the community." Nonsense. Your job is to cover the community, not become a seamstress who sews it together.

They take the battle to the people. Some in the press act as if Trump is the first president to take his act to the people because he uses Twitter as his own version of the Associated Press. President Woodrow Wilson was so determined to bypass the press, he created the Committee on Public Information, which produced copy that some newspapers ran, and...

To continue reading