The press may be all that’s left that can save us

Enough already.

The media — no monolith, mind you — is not the enemy.

Sure, individual reporters make mistakes, bias occasionally slips in, facts get mangled, and spin proves effective.

But by and large — and with the exception of some elements of Fox News — reporters are operating in good faith.

Every day, they get up, go to work and try to tell the stories that the rest of us need to hear.

Without their work, we wouldn’t have the understanding we do of Maine’s opioid crisis or the decline of the Department of Health and Human Services under Gov. Paul LePage and former Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

We wouldn’t know the depths of the Russia investigation or about the controversy surrounding racist symbols used as school mascots. We wouldn’t know who is funding elections or how politicians vote.

We would be walking through this world largely blind.

In fact, it is the media’s commitment to giving voice even to its critics that gives oxygen to the very attacks it faces. Media outlets give space and time to their critics in a way no other institution would allow.

The Bangor Daily News allows a regular columnist to attack the paper, which gives him a broad, mainstream audience.

Reporters write corrections and they struggle mightily to get things right.

As an editor at a daily newspaper in Northern Virginia, I worked with a young reporter who was so obsessive about getting his story right that he nearly drove himself — and the copy desk — crazy. He would call at all hours of the night, just to make sure his words matched what he was trying to say, to try and ensure that his stories told the truth.

As President Trump traveled to Finland this week to meet with a brutal, repressive dictator who has been accused of having journalists killed and who maintains an unbreakable grip on media in his country, the president once again called the media “the enemy.”

It’s a damnable lie. It’s dangerous. And it undermines our democracy.

It’s a bit trite, but I feel compelled to remind all my originalist friends out there about the words of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and advocate for the Bill of Rights: “If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.”

When the president and the people who support him describe the news media as “fake news” and the “enemy” they undermine our system of government and the idea of truth itself.

If someone is the enemy, a threat to the people, then what, exactly are the people supposed to do?

Journalists receive threats on a regular basis. Almost all of them are meaningless. Some, though, are scary. And some turn deadly.

During the 1990s, the newspaper I worked at received a letter containing white powder. The letter was opened in the newsroom and the powder went everywhere. The letter arrived during the anthrax attacks in Washington, and our newsroom was shut down. For hours, we couldn’t be sure if we’d been poisoned. The powder wasn’t anthrax, but the fear and uncertainty were real.

On Sept. 11, 2001, a reporter working for me was covering a routine story at the Pentagon when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building. With phone lines jammed, we had no idea if she was dead or alive. With no clue what was still to come, other reporters volunteered to go to the U.S. Capitol and the White House, even as rumors spread that they were possible targets.

Forty-six journalists were killed in 2017 doing their jobs, of bringing us the stories and the pictures we need to understand the world around us.

And late last month, when a gunman with a grudge to settle against Maryland’s Capital Gazette marched into the newspaper and opened fire, killing five, one reporter kept it from becoming even worse.


Current and former Capital Gazette staff members march in the Annapolis, Maryland, 4th of July parade. Photo by Jay Reed, The Baltimore Sun via AP.

Wendi Winters, a 65-year-old mother of four, counterattacked the killer with a garbage can and recycling bin, likely saving the lives of countless other people hiding under their desks in the chaotic scene.

These are not the actions of the “enemy.”

They are the actions of men and women who are committed to their communities and their world, who work for peanuts under intense pressure and public scrutiny, and who try — sometimes more successfully than others — to get it right the first time.

Despite what it feels like a whole lot of the time right now, the truth and facts still matter, and the only way we are going to know them are when the media shines its bright light on them.

Enemy of the people? Bull. The press may be all that’s left that can save us.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at