This is a country that celebrates the freedom of the press. We should do that, because a free press is essential to save us from tyranny. That, at least, is the theory. However, freedom of the press should be a two-way street. Sometimes the issue is not what you can report, but what you should report. Freedom of press is only possible if the press accepts responsibility to be sure it is fair and balanced, that it is reporting verified facts and that it is not doing unnecessary harm.
Today there is an article in the Daily Mail, UK, which is normally a news organization I admire. This time they did great harm by reporting information we simply did not need to know. What makes this worse is that they tried to blame this on Donald Trump.
It all started when Trump sent the following tweet: “Five most wanted leaders of ISIS just captured.” There is nothing wrong with that tweet. It is accurate, and it is cause to celebrate. But the Daily Mail provided specific details on how they were captured and in doing so made it absolutely certain that this method will never work again:
This reminds me of another story about Dwight Eisenhower. One of the riskiest ventures of World War II was the invasion of Sicily. The British even invented a fictious person to trick the Germans into thinking the invasion would be somewhere else. They made a movie about this: ”The Man Who Never Was.”
Eisenhower decided the safest approach was to tell the press what was happening and then explain to them the importance of keeping this secret. He describes this in his autobiography:
I felt I had to stop speculation by war reporters as to the future intentions of the Allied Forces. I knew the Germans were watching us intently and it is astonishing how expert a trained Intelligence staff becomes in piecing together odd scraps of seemingly unimportant information to construct a picture of enemy plans….During periods of combat inactivity reporters have a habit of filling up their stories with speculation…because of the confidence I had acquired in the integrity of newsmen in my theater, I decided to take them into my confidence. The experiment was one which I would not particularly like to repeat, because such a revelation does place a burden upon the man whose responsibility is to conceal the secret. But by making it I immediately placed upon every reporter in the theater a feeling of the same responsibility that I and my associates bore. Success was complete. From that moment onward, until after the attack was launched, nothing speculative came out of theater…After the operation was completed many correspondents told me of the fear they felt that they might be guilty of inadvertent revelation of the secret.” (ibid pp.169-170)
Unfortunately, the main stream media of today knows no such self-restraint. Instead they are so motivated by political bias that they willingly report things that they either know or should have known were lies. There are numerous reports that 90% of the coverage of Donald Trump by everyone in the media other than Fox News is negative. This is the same press that ignored red flag warnings about abuse of power by the Obama administration. They same press that ignores the blatant corruption by the Clinton Foundation and the criminal negligence of Hillary Clinton with regard to protecting classified information.
Incredibly the same network that produced a documentary praising the legendary love life of JFK somehow considers Donald Trump’s alleged one-night stand with Stormy Daniels, ten years before he ran for President, to be a threat to national security.
At some point, it would be great if those demanding freedom of the press started exhibiting some evidence that they also accept the great responsibility of that press. Yes, it was legal for the Daily Mail to publish this article but was it really the right thing to do. Yes, it is legal for the media to openly resist the presidency of Donald Trump, because they despise him. But I would remind the arrogant self-righteous talking heads on national TV that the main stream media during the Civil War routinely trashed Abraham Lincoln. He was so despised that he was barely allowed to even speak at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The date of that speech was originally scheduled for October 23, 1863, but it was postponed until November 19th, 1863 to accommodate the schedule of Edward Everett. Abraham Lincoln was invited to speak as an afterthought.
Edward Everett was a graduate of Harvard, the University of Gottigen, Boston Latin School and Phillips Exeter Academy. He was a former U.S Senator, Secretary of State and Governor of Massachusetts. He spoke for two hours using more than 52,000 words. He spoke so long that he had to use a small tent near by the platform, so he could discretely take a pee break. The press thought Everett’s performance was a masterpiece. Everett knew better. He wrote to Lincoln the next day: “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself, that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
The Harrisburg Patriot & Union published a review of Lincoln’s speech:
“the silly remarks of the President…for the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of”
To give credit, the New York Times reprinted Lincoln’s entire speech on the front page on November 20, 1863.
This is a reminder that at least some members of the press in 1863 were just as arrogant and biased as the press is today. But in the end, it really didn’t matter. Few people today know Edward Everett even existed. Even fewer can recite a single sentence from his speech. I doubt that anyone reading this knows the Harrisburg Patriot & Union published a newspaper. But Abraham’s Lincoln’s Gettysburg address still stirs our soul over 150 years later.
I just suspect that someday in the future, after we are all long gone, a historian will look back upon this with astonishment. On a day when the President literally got up at 3:00 a.m. to welcome three former prisoners home from being imprisoned in North Korea, CNN was focusing, for about the 59th time, on another outrageous comment about Stormy Daniels by Michael Avenatti. I can pretty much guarantee that few will remember that CNN even existed and virtually no one will remember Michael Avenatti. Donald Trump, on the other hand, could very well be remembered as the president who figured out a way to stop a maniacal dictator from setting off a nuclear fueled World War.
De Ja Vu.