This week, the conservatives declared war.
Not on The New York Times. Not even on the media in general. No, this week the entire conservative movement — from the White House to Republicans in Congress to Fox News to right-wing talk radio to conservative magazines — declared war on the very idea of an independent press.
They declared war on the idea that journalists have not just the right but the obligation to hold those in power accountable for their actions. They declared war on the idea that journalists, not the government and not a political party, get to decide what appears in the press. They declared war on the idea that the public has a right to know what the government is doing in our name.
This is a profound threat to our democracy, and we underestimate it at our peril.
Given the constant drumbeat of criticism directed at the media from conservatives, it might be easy to dismiss this latest expulsion of bile as just more of the same. But it’s worth stepping back to take a look at exactly what has occurred over the past week. Members of Congress have suggested revoking the Capitol Hill credentials of journalists, so that only news organizations that do not displease the ruling party may be permitted to report from Congress. Other members have accused members of the media of “treason” and advocated their prosecution. A conservative television and radio personality suggested that the government establish an Office of Censorship to screen the news. Another said, “I would have no problem with [New York Times editor Bill Keller] being sent to the gas chamber.” The House of Representatives passed a resolution saying it “expects the cooperation of all news media organizations.”
In short, the right assembled a posse this week — vigilantes stalking television studios, radio airwaves, print, and the Internet, their apparent goal to revoke the First Amendment.
And journalists could barely summon the energy to defend not just their colleagues, but their profession — let alone the citizens they are supposed to serve. At the same time that they were being subjected to this assault, they continued to view the political world through a lens created by the very people battering them mercilessly.