Suppressing watchdog press battle president will never win


Every parent feels a little pressure when it comes to raising their kids. Many of us start with a preconceived notion of how our children will turn out so that each deviation from that plan can often seem like a failure. Usually that perspective could not be more wrong, but I know how it works.

Fathers of children who misbehave are mortified when a child challenges his authority, especially in front of other dads. Establishing early who the boss is in these relationships is vital mainly for the sanity of the boss in the early years, but also for the child. A child who constantly challenges authority is headed for a constantly challenging youth. How would I know? I will let you imagine how.

I’m watching this role identification problem play out on a big stage right now, as are you.

Scott Pelley, CBS News’ evening news anchor and managing editor, made a brief appearance on the morning show this week to discuss President Donald Trump. He relayed an obvious observation about our new president worthy of noting. Trump doesn’t know how to be told “no.”

Pelley went on to say that Trump is mad at “not being boss anymore.” Imagine that for a moment. Our new president, a position often described as “leader of the free world,” is already mad about the limits on this new job. But Pelley is absolutely correct in his descriptive.

Every president is a public servant. While there is a long list of constitutional limits on the power of the office, nothing is more limiting than the one Trump is fighting with the most: the public itself.

Public outcry is fascinating in America. The rallies and the protests of recent weeks are starting to pile up. I admit being moved by the peaceful ones in particular. But in the end, I continue to believe that the greatest tool to limit the power of any public official or branch of government is a free and responsible press.

President Trump has declared war on the media. This is a war he will lose.

He is trying to mobilize his supporters against the press with tweets that say the media “is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” He has begun to make it a routine and an attempt to normalize describing virtually any news outlet that challenges him as “fake news.” This is a blatant attempt to make actual fake news more mainstream by clouding what truly is and is not fake.

He won’t admit it yet, but the media is the boss of him.

The media are the reason he fired Mike Flynn. And the media are the reason all things Russia will be investigated. The Republican-controlled Congress is trying to stand by their man, and it will be the media that crushes that craziness.

And while Trump and his team battle with the press in DC, the Indiana General Assembly is going the other direction.

This week, the House Education Committee passed House Bill 1130, a bill to provide protections for student journalists. Not only is our state government showing its respect for the First Amendment, it is expanding its commitment to a free press by legislating certain protections for student news outlets. Student-published news is huge in state capitols, accounting for as much as 15 percent of state government news coverage nationally.

Journalism is also the only private sector job that is specifically protected in the Constitution.

I am lucky to know a number of current journalists and active former journalists. These people represent the foundation of defense against abusive government power. And I am betting on them in this silly war that our silly leader has declared.

I took a minute to peruse Carl Bernstein’s Twitter account while I wrote this. For those who don’t know, Bernstein and Bob Woodward were the two reporters who broke the Watergate scandal which led to President Nixon’s resignation. In one tweet he wrote that attacks on the press by Trump are “more treacherous than Nixon’s.”

I agree. And I know it will be a slog for the White House press corps, but the triumph this time could re-energize the profession like Woodward and Bernstein did four decades ago.

In Indiana, we are moving legislation to protect the development and future of our most valued messengers of facts. The role models for these students have a great opportunity to set a generational example for them. I have no preconceived notion of how this story will end, but I have confidence we will get to read all about it.

Michael Leppert is a public and governmental affairs consultant in Indianapolis and writes his thoughts about politics, government and anything else that strikes him at

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