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No more enemies

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President Trump and the media must stop attacking one another. The continuous barrage has strained our democracy.

NEW YORK TIMES/DOUG MILLS Enlarge

A number of newspapers in the United States are editorializing today in support of freedom of the press.

They are beseeching President Donald Trump to cease characterizing the press as “the enemy of people.”

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Indeed, the President must know that, as a matter of constitutional law — the First Amendment — the press can never be the enemy of the people. For the press’ freedom is the people’s freedom. It derives from them and applies to them. All of them.

Freedom of press, speech, and conscience are indivisible.

The first freedoms are also a matter of tradition as well as law in this country — one might almost say a matter of secular theology. Thomas Jefferson said it best: “Our liberty cannot be guarded but by freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.”

By informing the people and by scrutinizing those in power, the press guards freedom just as surely as our soldiers do.

Without freedom of speech, of thought, and of the press, there is no democracy. Freedom dies.

So when the President calls the press the enemy of the people, he offends American tradition and the American ethos at its very core.

And this is deeply disturbing.

Any president must understand the inherent role the press plays in nourishing our democracy.

It is also disturbing that the President seems not to appreciate that heroic individuals have died for press freedom, and are still dying for it, in many parts of the world — including, China, Russia, Cuba, and many nation states in the Middle East

What the President really means, perhaps, is that the current press in the U.S., often, is his enemy. And he is right about that. Much of the press has been at war with Mr. Trump since his first day in office. In fact, some members of the press have acted as part of Mr. Trump’s political opposition, or the resistance. Some have agitated for the end of his time in office since that first day.

This, too, is unprecedented. And the loss of detachment, of professionalism, and of perspective, on the part of so much of the press, as regards Mr. Trump, has badly hurt the press.

The credibility of American journalism has suffered. Too many of us joined a side.

Today's collective editorial critique was organized by Marjorie Pritchard of the Boston Globe, a newspaper where few, if any, praises have been showered on the President for any policy and there is precious little curiosity about Trump voters. The Globe is part of the national media echo chamber. How much more persuasive the defense of the press would be if it emanated from Kansas, or Iowa. Or if it were accompanied by what Prof. John Lewis Gaddis of Yale requires of his students: a field trip to middle America.

Such a journey might replace smugness with empathy.

Just as his lack of restraint has often been the President’s self-inflicted wound, the bias of some of the press has hurt journalism, at the very moment when it most needed to save itself.

It is time for a truce.

Mr. Trump has a new communications director who, it is rumored, wants relations between the President and the press to improve.

It would be good for both sides, but, especially, good for the country, if the President publicly stated that the press is not the enemy of the people, but an essential guardian of our liberty.

Barring that, it would be good if the President simply ceased calling the press the enemy.

It would also be good if the press drew back from its bias toward Mr. Trump and stopped portraying Mr. Trump as the enemy of the people.

As everyone’s grandmother used to say: It takes two to tango. Respect must flow both ways.

No more enemies.

Let the President and the press disagree, yes. Let there be robust debate about policy in the press. Let the President and the press corps spar.

But neither side should continue to demonize the other. It has hurt the press, the presidency, and our country, greatly.

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