A bright young man I know recently moved back to Connecticut to be a reporter at The Day. A former Hartford Advocate editor of mine now teaches journalism at University of Pennsylvania. A childhood friend moved from The Atlantic to InsideClimate News to oversee reporting on climate change. Another colleague continues to crank out acerbic columns for the state’s paper of record.

Christine Palm

These are the people Donald Trump considers “enemies of the state.” He fears their power, and fights back by calling them treasonous purveyors of “fake news” (a ludicrous term that is now the argot of the current White House).

But not only are they not traitors to the state; they are, in fact, defenders of it. Journalists — on every rung of editorial influence, covering every beat imaginable, and working in whatever medium available to them — are absolutely essential to the very existence of the state. And to those of us in public service, they are instrumental in keeping government transparent, from the local zoning board of appeals to the G-7 Summit in Paris.

So, when the president of the United States cancels the White House’s subscriptions to The New York Times and The Washington Post and threatens to force federal agencies to do the same, it’s time to say it flat out: democracy doesn’t just “die in darkness,” it gets murdered there by venal dolts like Donald Trump.

How can any sitting president possibly govern intelligently and strategically (never mind compassionately) when he literally shuts the page on two of the most important news sources in the world?

His latest apologist, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, gave this lame excuse: “Not renewing subscriptions across all federal agencies will be a significant cost saving — hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars will be saved.”

Talk about pennywise and pound-foolish. If Trump were serious about saving taxpayer money, he could start with his rallies, which have left a trail of unpaid bills and cities across the country on the hook to the tune of $800,000, according to Fortune.

In comparison, let’s run the numbers on subscriptions to these two venerable news sources. Allowing for various specials and depending on which plan you buy, The NYT costs about $180 per year, and the Post, about $150. That’s $330 per year for Trump to learn that America was formed 243 years ago, not in Ancient Rome; that climate is different from weather; that you can’t put Harriet Tubman on the $2 because it’s out of print; and that Colorado doesn’t border Mexico. Seems a good investment to me. And even if he authorized a subscription for, let’s say, 100 federal agency officials to stay on top of the things he can’t be bothered with, like geography, history and geo-political alliances, that comes to about $33,000 per year.

In any administration, journalism is the last expense that should be cut. While Minister to France in 1787, Thomas Jefferson famously said, “…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Never has the practice of journalism been more needed, or precarious. And I thank every reporter and editor working to keep our individual brains from calcifying and our collective consciousness from becoming ignorant of the world around us.

When I taught journalism at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts some years ago, my students gobbled up each daily paper (thanks to The Hartford Courant’s “Newspapers in Education” program). At the start of each class, I handed out sections randomly, and watched while the kids held the paper in their hands, turning the big broadsheets with a kind of reverence, and poring over news – local, regional, national and international.

They savored every bit, from minutiae about an animal that had escaped a zoo, to Jeter’s latest acrobatic catch, to the death toll from a Haitian hurricane. They learned to discern for themselves what is valid, and true. They questioned everything. I believe it has made them better people, more engaged citizens and more informed voters. Mostly, I hope they will always subscribe to some good papers, and in so doing, hold themselves to a higher standard than our president holds himself.

Christine Palm is the State Representative for the 36th General Assembly District, covering the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex and Haddam. She is a former newspaper reporter.

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6 Comments

  1. Seriously? There are real reporters doing the job that the mendacious media won’t do as it serves its political masters (or vice versa). Starve the NYT and WP and help bring back real reporting and journalism. There are plenty of other ways to stay informed without suffering through outright propaganda.

  2. Brilliant piece from a brilliant woman and lawmaker. We need more like this and her! Thank you CT Mirror for providing the space and to Rep Palm for her intelligent, thoughtful and bright ideas. They are needed in such a darkening time. Bravo!

  3. Contemporary journalists are a research-deficient group with no sense of history. Too many of them excel in revealing their biases through thinly disguised one-sided attacks on people they designate “national enemies,” e.g., President Trump, and canonize manufactured heroes, e.g., AOC, Warren, Sanders, just as the writer did in her column. They ignore history and its role in how we got to where we are as a nation. Modern journalists view everything that happens as a first-time event, as if we have no past.
    If reporters would do some research, they would find that each of the five most recent U.S. presidents has experienced at least one quid pro quo “scandal” without being impeached, as did Franklin Roosevelt and John Tyler, and that climate change and its associated scare tactics have been discussed in newspapers for hundreds of years. They are masters of omission journalism in which they concentrate on negative news and omit almost anything positive. How often do the New York Times and Washington Post report favorably on the strength of the nation’s economy, for example? Today’s journalists might be viewed more favorably if they would develop a sense of fairness, which overall they sadly lack. Unless they do, a large portion of society will continue to view them askancely, which will do nothing to unite our fractured society. Simply put, they are standing in the way of unity, not fostering it. That will not change soon, no matter how hard their boosters try to convince citizens of journalists’ value to a free and open society–which is dubious at best.

    1. Hi Arthur, we welcome your comments but please note that our guidelines require that comments be limited to 1,000 characters. We will not be able to approve comments that exceed that limit going forward.

  4. I’m sure that you are aware that there are journalists and then there are journalists! If you don’t think that we hear more fake news these days then we do real news then there’s something wrong with you.

  5. Do you really fear that the liberal view is being threatened? 90%+ of media reporting and opinion is liberal in this country. You actually have to search hard to find news that is objective and without bias- particularly liberal bias. The Washington Post is owned by a man who can’t stand Trump and is now borderline bird cage material. The Democrat party has a direct channel to the media. Remember the DNC chair prepping Hillary with debate questions obtained from the “media?”

    Cry us a river.

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