Americans should trust journalism and a free press, even if they’ve lost faith in some journalists.
This week, media and politicians are focused on revelations that, during the 2016 presidential race, President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. agreed to meet with a Russian lawyer claiming to have dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Regardless of the implications of this information, the press’s ability to expose a private meeting of public interest is a reminder to elected officials and aspiring politicians that untoward conduct carried out in the dark will likely be brought to light.
That’s a healthy message. The behavior of those involved in public life is rightly held to a high standard. The public’s expectation for media to deliver rigorous reporting is also elevated, and the media must work to earn the trust of its audience.
In the email exchange between Trump Jr. and a British intermediary, Robert Goldstone, the lawyer looking to meet with Trump Jr. was described as a “Russian government lawyer.”
On Thursday, the president defended his son’s decision to take the meeting.
“He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer," he said. “Nothing happened from the meeting. Zero happened from the meeting. And honestly I think the press made a very big deal out of something really a lot of people would do.”
The substance of the meeting remains to be revealed. But through a vibrant press and investigative bodies such information will come out. Members of the public can then determine its import to their lives and the security of the country.
According to a recent Harvard-Harris poll conducted before the latest revelations, a majority of Americans said the press and Congress should move on from the Russia investigation, and, according to the Gallup organization, overall trust in the press is at a multi-decade nadir.
Yet even as Americans remain wary of coverage, citizens must not abandon their commitment to an irrevocably free press.
Some Republicans may bemoan the press’s work to reveal Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting, but it was also the press that brought to light meetings between Hillary Clinton allies and anti-Trump Ukrainians looking to boost Clinton’s chances of winning the White House.
But journalism and journalists are not above criticism or severe censure.
In a moment of frustration with the media of his day, Thomas Jefferson once said: “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.”
And yet, the drafter of the Declaration of Independence nonetheless understood the value of a free press in keeping government honest and guarding against despotism and the abuse of individual liberties.
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government," Jefferson wrote to a fellow Virginian, "I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”