A free press is a cornerstone of democracy. That comes with responsibilities

See Disclaimer.

The recent NYT opinion by Ezra Klein (To understand today’s GOP, you have to understand Trump’s enablers’) is just one of innumerable writings by liberal and moderate-conservative columnists excoriating Mr. Trump or his followers. About the same time, an opinion by Hugh Hewitt in the WP (‘Three realities powering a Republican sweep) excoriated Mr. Biden and the Democrats, as many conservative columnists similarly do.

While an independent voter, I happen to strongly agree that the former president is indeed a threat to democracy (and his grip on his followers highly concerning), and to strongly disagree that Mr. Biden and the Democrats are responsible for all ills of the country. But I appreciate reading a diversity of opinions, as it is healthy in a democracy. Furthermore, topics like those addressed by Klein and Hewitt are clearly relevant, and have appropriately been opined on in the press (and elsewhere) by columnists from different ideological camps.

Still, what we are not seeing enough of—even in the WP, NYT and other quality press—is old-fashioned ‘news’ that inform and educate, rather than cajole, praise or berate. News that go beyond the latest atrocity of Russia in Ukraine, the latest mass shooting, or the latest Trump scandal. I realize that there is a morbid eagerness to read about calamity and chaos (and they do need to be reported!), but I miss a more comprehensive, in-depth, on-display, coverage of what the government is actually doing day by day, its context, and its implications on the present and future of our country and world.

I would like to learn more about the impacts (whether positive or negative) of the Biden stimulus packages. Or how US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is implementing the Infrastructure Bill, from philosophy and methods to where the money is actually going and why. Or how and to what extent the Inflation Reduction Act is affecting prescription drug costs and mitigation of climate change. Or how immigration has played a role in slowing down ‘the graying of America,’ and why that is relevant. That type of fact-based, non-partisan coverage matters, contributes to a better informed citizenry, and in the process impacts voters’ thinking and decisions.

In the upcoming mid-term elections, both principles and practical issues will be in voters’ minds. But those minds are being fed (by the press, and even more so by the wild world of social media) far more opinions than objective news and data. Those minds are being led to think less by themselves, and to rely more on sound bites and processed (often inaccurate or non-contextualized) messaging. It takes a real effort, even for those readers who try, to keep track of what is objective information versus ideologically influenced.

The former president would like us to believe that the press is ‘truly the enemy of the people,’ a false, dangerous and authoritarian message. Having lived in three continents, under both democratic and authoritarian regimes, I am fully aware that freedom of the press is instead a true cornerstone of democracy. I also understand that press outlets are ultimately businesses, that need to survive—and thus staffing levels and content/editorial decisions must account to some extent for what the reading public will ultimately buy.

But is it too much to ask of press such as the NYT and WP (or, with lesser expectation, even Fox News, CNN, …) that they publish more, more substantive, and better contextualized news, and less opinions? That they inform and educate more, while still reserving space to criticize and catalyze debate?

America would be better off for it.

— Antonio Baptista

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