PD Editorial: Enemies of the people? No, we’re your eyes and ears

Donald Trump isn't the first politician who ever tried to pit the public against the news media, and he won't be the last.

But his steady drumbeat of denunciations - “fake news,” “a stain on America,” “enemies of the people” - is pushing red-blue divisions beyond politics and into the free flow of information in our democracy.

An Ipsos poll published last week illustrated the split: 48 percent of Republicans agreed that journalists are “enemies of the people,” compared with 12 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of independents. Moreover, 43 percent of Republicans said the president should have the authority to shut down news outlets “engaged in bad behavior.”

The president's invective, including his claim at a recent rally that reporters “make up stories,” invariably follow news he'd like to see buried because it contradicts his preferred narrative. In other words, he is disturbed by the kind of accountability journalism practiced every day in newsrooms across the country.

Today, at the suggestion of our counterparts at the Boston Globe, opinion pages at more than 200 newspapers across the country are responding to Trump's attacks with editorials and commentaries about the role journalists play in a free society.

Our message is straightforward: Journalists are not your enemy.

The reporters, photographers news editors, copy editors and page designers in The Press Democrat newsroom are your neighbors, and they share your affection for Sonoma County.

They spread out across our community when disaster struck in the middle of the night last October, describing the firefight as it unfolded and the search that followed for victims and survivors, including senior citizens left behind at a Fountaingrove retirement complex.

In the aftermath, our newsroom colleagues asked pointed questions about why people in the path of fires didn't receive better warnings, and they scoured public records from which they learned that county officials' first instinct, as summed up in one email, was to “defend every decision.”

Press Democrat journalists also reported on water pressure problems that hampered firefighters in Santa Rosa's Fountaingrove neighborhood and the discovery of benzene in water lines that has delayed efforts to rebuild homes there.

This newspaper partnered with the Redwood Credit Union on a relief effort that raised more than $30 million to assist fire victims.

Donors had many other options to assist fire victims, so we like to think the generous contributions from this community reflect confidence in the work our journalists do every day. Besides the fires, their recent efforts identified shortcomings in the Sonoma County's mental health system and examined the aggressive application of asset forfeiture laws by Rohnert Park police officers, who routinely seized money and property during traffic stops far beyond the city's boundaries. In the coming weeks, our newsroom will be gearing up for the midterm elections, scrutinizing candidates and issues in council races in all nine local cities.

These aren't made-up stories. They're watchdog journalism - the foundation of America's free press.

Our focus is on Sonoma County and the North Coast. We rely on fellow journalists in Sacramento and Washington and around the world to provide our readers with thorough coverage of state, national and international news. They, too, strive to provide thorough and unbiased accounts that can withstand scrutiny from readers, newsmakers and critics.

Reporters shouldn't be seeking approbation from politicians or government officials or anyone else they cover. But there's more than a little irony when a man whose celebrity is rooted in the tabloid culture, and who tried to keep himself in the headlines by posing as his own publicist, cries “fake news.” Question us, challenge us, correct us when we err. But never doubt this: We aren't your enemies. We're your eyes and ears in the public arena.

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