Georgie Anne Geyer

Enemies of the People

WASHINGTON -- In all these years covering the tragedies of the world, I thought that I was an enemy of the dictators, the killers and the plagues of mankind. I used my pen to fight against the Soviets killing political prisoners in the gulags and marauding Serbs massacring Bosnians in the '90s. But, no, I was mistaken.

I am actually an "enemy of the people"! It has to be true; the president of the "free world" says so.

If you have been reading us antagonists, you will know that President Donald J. Trump tweeted on Feb. 17: "The FAKE NEWS media ... is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!" And what will flow from those words, no one yet can know.

But we do know where the phrase comes from. The Bolsheviks of the Russian Communist Revolution used it to describe "socially dangerous" elements, who would almost always face their ends in front of a firing squad or out in Siberia. We know that they borrowed it from the horrid Robespierre, the bloody, radical Jacobin of the French Revolution, who extolled the necessary weapons as "the epithet, righteousness and the blade," writes David Remnick in The New Yorker.

But me and my compatriots? Most of my fellow journalists and I studied journalism because we loved "news" and having to write about it on a regular, usually daily basis, not on what we think, but on what is actually happening in the world.

Until recent years, when, I'm sorry to say, new technology and cable news' dispersion of information rather rattled things up, we fully accepted the formula that news was what reporters reported on the news pages, foreign coverage was what you had to analyze to make sense of it and judging the news was reserved for columnists on the opinion pages.

It remains my opinion that most newspapers, if not cable, still do this pretty fairly. Then why is the president of the United States of America challenging us -- no, threatening us -- and labeling us with words that would even today make an average Russian's hair stand on edge? Let me begin by admitting some press guilt in all of this.

-- First, the coverage of candidate Trump during the campaign was largely one-dimensional. He was seen as a craven fool, come out of nowhere to comfort the enormously wealthy and the uneducated woebegotten and to amuse the bored elites.

Yet there had to be good points to Donald Trump. He could not have achieved what he did otherwise. His ability to build great buildings and inspire many of his employees. Where was that in the coverage?

-- Second, TV networks, particularly cable networks, gave him heaps and heaps of free time, thinking he attracted viewers and made them money. Neither TV nor the infinitely more responsible print press performed the classic journalistic footwork to find out why so many disconsolate, disconnected, disparaged Americans were moved by him.

And so, none of them saw his "win" coming. And that spelled disaster, as one-dimensionality in news always does, because (1) it is wrong, and (2) it feeds distrust of the coverage.

Yet, that does not excuse Trump from the appalling mistakes in judgment and morality that he has consistently made.

Only this week, the president again got it all wrong, this time on immigration problems in Sweden, finally admitting that he watched a general Fox News show on the subject and then mentioned in a speech the next day that something happened the night before that didn't happen at all.

Hey, Mr. President, does that make YOU an enemy of the people?

The psychology of Donald J. Trump remains to be analyzed and to be understood. We know that he likes dictators (he has praised Saddam Hussein, the Chinese massacre at Tiananmen Square and, of course, Vladimir Putin). We know that his father, Fred, divided the world into ordinary people and "killers," the latter being his preferred choice. We know the only photo in Trump's Oval Office is of Fred.

In the end, the president's charge against journalists really marks the loss of commonality, of a unified American message that the press alone carried through.

Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, who was director of both the CIA and the NSA, said recently, in an interview quoted in The Washington Post, that Trump's ambitions are "a systematic effort to invalidate and delegitimize all the institutions, governmental and nongovernmental, that create the factual basis for action ... so they won't push back against arbitrary moves."

If this is true -- and it looks more and more as though it is -- then our nation could be in deep and potentially tragic trouble. And journalists -- we "enemies of the people" -- may turn out to be the only wall left standing.


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