Fake News and the Founding Fathers

Roundup
tags: Founding Fathers, Trump, Fake News



John Avlon is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast. A CNN contributor, he won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ award for best online column in 2012.

Donald Trump and his White House team feel aggrieved. The news is all so negative. Totally unfair. Press secretary Sean Spicer said that he felt demoralized days into the new gig and chief strategist Steve Bannoninfamously declared journalists the “opposition party.” 

Of course, tone comes from the top and our often fact-free President rarely loses an opportunity to call critics “fake news,” stooping to tin-pot dictator talking points on Friday by tweeting that the press should be considered “the enemy of the American people.” 

While Trump’s all-out war on the media may be unique, his complaints are not.  The tension between a free press and the government is intentional – part of the essential check and balances of a free society the founding fathers envisioned. After all, the constitution doesn’t mention political parties, but it does mention journalists.

Even the founding fathers had a complicated relationship with the early reporters George Washington called “infamous scribblers.” While James Madison believed that “to the press alone, checkered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression,” the primary author of the Constitution spoke from personal knowledge on both sides of the equation.  He and Thomas Jefferson surreptitiously started one of the first partisan newspapers, the National Gazette, to attack their rival Alexander Hamilton and the policies of the Washington administration.  Jefferson exhorted Madison to attack Hamilton under an assumed-name in the paper, saying, “For god’s sake, my dear sir, take up your pen, select the most striking heresies, and cut him to pieces in the face of the public.”

Before the presidency, Washington declared, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter,” but the constant anti-administration attacks of the National Gazette drove him to distraction. When Secretary of War Henry Knox brought a copy of the paper into a cabinet meeting containing a broadside called “The Funeral of George Washington” which described a tyrannical executive on a guillotine, the president exploded in one of his rare but memorable rages. ...




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