“Cowardice asks the question ‘is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question ‘is it political?’ Vanity asks the question ‘is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question ‘is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular; one must take a position because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader (1929-1968)

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“Scum” is how candidate Trump described the mainstream press during the campagin. He singled out the Washington Post and called the press in general the “world’s most dishonest people, not all of them, but 70 to 75 percent of them.” He called one reporter a “sleazy guy” rather than answer his question and most of us remember his mocking a disabled reporter on stage, in front of the world.

Now, Trump promises to ease libel laws so the press can easily be sued. Shortly after his inauguration, Associated Press reported that he banned all employees of the Environmental Protection Agency from talking with reporters or going on social media.

Opening up litigation so that he can sue at the drop of a hat is not about accountability, it is about stifling free speech. The press is about holding politicians accountable; all of them, not just the ones Trump doesn’t like.

The latest attack came after Trump warned; “We’re gonna do something about the media.” Last Friday he did, when his press secretary barred CNN, New York Times, BBC, Los Angeles Times, Politico, Buzzfeed, Daily Mail, The Hill and the New York Daily News from a briefing.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer then went off-camera in what was described as a “gaggle” and took his chosen reporters inside the West Wing rather than to the usual James S. Brady Briefing room. He invited non-mainstream outlets including Breitbart News, the Washington Times and One America News Network in with a group of mainstream media of his choosing that included ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, Reuters and Bloomberg.

During the campaign, the Trump “blacklist” included the largest Spanish-language broadcaster and the Des Moines Register after it wrote an editorial calling for Trump to drop out of the primaries.

Common sense tells us that the reason for banning the press is self-serving and dangerous. It is the press whose job is to be the eyes and ears for the public that has kept us free of tyranny and will continue to do so, in spite of what our president wants or threatens.

His outrage is so transparent that it is head-scratching that even his ardent supporters don’t reject this notion and call him out. Putting a muzzle on the mainstream press does not serve us; does anyone motivated by common sense disagree with that?

Nixon did what he could to discredit the press in the aftermath of Watergate, but Trump is taking it to a new level, calling them out for their general being. Citizen Trump used the press for his own good and exploited it to become a household name. Now, when journalists report on what he says and what he does, they are sleazebags.

Does anyone doubt that the Trump administration is manufacturing the notion that fake news is the norm in an effort to undermine credibility when it comes to the Russian investigation? Do we have another Watergate in the making? We’ll never know if the press is silenced.

As President Trump continues to tell us that nobody cares about his tax returns, the intelligence committee, with both of our Maine senators involved, is considering a subpoena to determine what, if any, conflicts of interest with Russia and other countries exist. The notion that being under audit makes a difference does not hold up. How about, as a start, and as good faith, voluntarily showing us the last return that isn’t under audit?

In the end, let’s hope that the press will continue to call a spade a spade and do its job.

***

Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for the Washington Post, spoke recently at a Newspaper Awards conference in Boston and told her audience that we Americans must “insist on the truth, seek it relentlessly and stand up for those who provide it.”

She added: “President Trump shows no understanding of the role of the free press in our democracy, the idea that journalists were intended by the framers of the Constitution as a check on power, was the way to hold government accountable.”

Sullivan took some solace in a recent poll that shows voters trust the media and the courts more than our president. She concluded; “Journalism’s role is more important than ever as we try to make sense of what’s happening for our viewers and readers. I’m more convinced every day that most Americans know very well that just as the First Amendment protects us, we must return the framers' great favor and protect it.”

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Even our own columnists are guilty of pushing the agenda to discredit the mainstream press. Last week's “Another View” was written by Paul Ackerman, who jumped on the Trump bandwagon, attacking “lefties and their media allies” for fostering false narratives that the election was not lost, but stolen from them. By the way, these complainers are the same people who told us Obama wasn’t born here and wasn’t a legitimate president.

When Paul speaks about the “frenzy of false stories” he insults us by suggesting we, as readers, can’t tell false news from real news. It comes down to who do we trust, not the hyperbole that comes by bashing liberals and creating a narrative that media is somehow out to get Trump, no matter what. The liberals could have said the same about the press bashing Clinton at every turn.

When Paul wrote; “President Trump’s answers were direct and forthright, when it comes to ‘Russian influence,' I actually winced. Reminded by Trump’s “birther campaign,” common sense tells me that our president is not forthright about much, and has a distorted opinion about the truth. This is not about politics, rather about decency and morality.