"The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy."
That was the mantra of future ex-president Richard Nixon during his White House stay, according to just-released tapes of phone conversations (he even tapped himself).
Anyone who needs reminding of why journalists push for a more open and transparent government need go no further than that chilling statement by the Commander in Chief. Professors were the enemy, too, the president hammered home to his underlings, making him sound more like the intelligentsia-purging communist regimes he so rabidly pursued.
This is the same president who threatened to go after the broadcast licenses of his "enemy" at the Washington Post, Kay Graham, because she refused to back down from the Watergate investigation.
But Nixon was right about the press, actually. It was the enemy…of corruption and lying and illegal acts that threatened to undermine the U.S. government and the principles for which we like to think it stands.
Hopefully we will not see the likes of that paranoid campaign again.
But it has its decendants in the excesses of power and surfeit of accountability accorded those who invoke terrorism. That threat, of course, is real. But it is not a license to trample on the First Amendment.
That is one of the reasons that, no matter who is in the White House, there needs to be a federal shield law to protect journalists from overreaching government officials, and there needs to be a rational approach to classifying government documents that does not get a free pass when national security is invoked, and there needs to be the governmental equivalent of a laxative for the backlog of Freedom of Information Requests, including some outstanding at the FCC.
The press may be rude at times, and wrong at times, and flaccid at times, and brilliant at times–how many Emmys does Brian Ross, have anyway?–but it is the enemy of the enemies of truth, which makes it a friend indeed.