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Journalists Nationwide Push Back Against President Trump's Anti-Media Rhetoric


More than 350 newspapers today published editorials defending the role of journalism in a free society. That role has come under attack frequently from President Trump. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, the editorials have drawn cheers from much of the press. They've also generated some skepticism within the profession.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Here's the kind of thing we've been hearing from the nation's chief executive since, oh, seemingly forever.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There they are, right back there. They're fake. They are fake.

FOLKENFLIK: I mean, as he often makes clear, the president needs the media's affirmation. Instead he's received tough scrutiny. This summer, he's been leaning hard on this phrase.


TRUMP: You know, the enemy - the enemy of the people, I call them.

FOLKENFLIK: Marjorie Pritchard of The Boston Globe says enough is enough.


MARJORIE PRITCHARD: This editorial project is not against the Trump administration's agenda. It's a response to put us into the public discourse and defend the First Amendment.

FOLKENFLIK: Pritchard first issued the public call for newspapers around the country to join the Globe in the effort. She spoke to Morning Edition earlier today.


PRITCHARD: He's calling the press a domestic enemy. And we are fellow countrymen. And our profession is to hold the powerful accountable.

FOLKENFLIK: More than 300 have joined in - papers large and small, the nation's top metro areas and small towns in Indiana, North Dakota and Kansas. The Tulsa World wrote that the press is not the enemy of the people but, quote, "we are the enemy of crooks, cheats, chiselers, liars, thieves and swindlers. We are the enemies of the deceptive, the public grifters, the malfeasant, the forces of ignorance and the proponents of hate." Not everyone is on board. Jack Shafer is media critic for Politico.

JACK SHAFER: What this strikes me as is a sort of a public relation event of all the newspapers joining forces.

FOLKENFLIK: Shafer argues it's counterproductive.

SHAFER: You know, to me the strength of the American press is that it's independent. Each newspaper plots its own course. There's no media conspiracy that's operating in the background.

FOLKENFLIK: But a media conspiracy is exactly what Trump's defenders claim to see. And several people, myself included, publicly predicted it would not take long for Trump to accuse the press of collusion. And sure enough, Trump later tweeted, quote, "the Globe was in collusion with the other papers on free press." Red meat for Trump's faithful, red flags for those who care about transparency in government.

The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times did not participate. At the LA Times, the editorial page editor writes that the paper values its independence and does not want to leave the impression it engages in groupthink, even as he noted the many occasions in which the LA Times had stood firm in support of press freedoms, kind of having its cake and publishing it, too. Yet the broader concern lingers.

JAMES BENNET: The rhetoric is trickling down, you know, across the country. And it's having an impact in lots of communities. And people are worried about their local officials adopting some of this language and some of their readers turning away and not taking them seriously.

FOLKENFLIK: James Bennet is editorial page editor of The New York Times. He attended a White House meeting earlier this summer with Trump and his boss New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger. Sulzberger told Trump the phrase fake news undermines truth in democracy, but that calling journalists enemy of the people was flat-out dangerous.

BENNET: We're simply trying to remind people of the value of good journalism in their lives.

FOLKENFLIK: The New York Times rounded up many of the commentaries from papers across the country and posted them, too. Less, he says, an effort to convince Trump than an effort to restate values that endure from administration to administration. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF IAMNOBODI'S "BEST BELIEVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.