IN DEFENSE OF 
A NOBLE PROFESSION

   The President of the United States, who is known as the leader of the free world, said the media are "the enemy of the people." It's hard to believe anyone could be so wrong.
   This column is for my father, who died 17 years ago. As many readers know, he was a Chronicle columnist for almost 40 years. But before he became a columnist, he was a reporter, and he identified as one to his last dying day.
    I can only imagine how offended he would have been by the President's remarks about fake news and the "dishonest" and "unfair" and "lying" media. I can only imagine how sad it would have made him to see the profession he chose, and loved, to be dragged through the mud.
    He would be appalled that the President would attack the credibility of his colleagues. He might understand an attack on columnists, or editorial writers, but not reporters. The news is sacred. And so vitally important.
   Fake news? Clearly, it's a ploy of the President to discredit stories that are unfavorable to him, both in the past and the future. He is belittling the profession of journalism, and the historically noble concept of a free press, in an attempt to mask his deficiencies and cement his position as the leader of a not-so-free world.
   On behalf of my father and all the wonderful and ethical people he worked with in his 55 years in journalism, as well as the thousands of dedicated, ethical people who report the news to us today, I can only say one thing---Don't fall for it.
   Only three entities can keep any President in check---Congress, the judiciary and the press. With Congress behind him, our current President is going after the other two, trying to delegitimize their power. This can't happen. A free press is essential to a democracy. That's why it's often referred to as the fourth estate. And that's why my father was so proud to call it his profession.
   I'm not a journalist, so I have no self-interest in being its defender. I sold out long ago and went into business, and I have no regrets. But I grew up thinking I would be a reporter, like my father, and looked forward to working in a profession that included Walter Cronkite, "the most trusted man in the world."
   My father and his colleagues worked hard, played hard, drank hard and chased stories. They didn't make a lot of money, but that wasn't important. They reported the "news that was fit to print" and their integrity was never in question.
   Nothing has changed, except a new generation and a lot more cynicism. Reporters still don't make much money, and I, for one, never doubt their integrity. The idea that a reporter or editor would fabricate fake news is utterly preposterous. They would be drummed out of this noble profession immediately. Nor would they ignore a story. Not cover a terrorist attack in Europe? Tell me you're kidding.
   Are they biased? Of course they're biased. Everyone is biased. My father was biased. But he reported what he saw. In one of his more celebrated pieces, he witnessed and wrote about an execution in the gas chamber at San Quentin. He was an ardent opponent of capital punishment, but he never said so in the story. He didn't have to. He just described the scene, and let the reader draw their own conclusions.
   The President won't like the stories from current reporters about immigrant mothers or fathers being deported and separated from their crying children. He won't like the stories about his latest poll numbers, or his possible ties with Russia, or his business conflicts of interest. He won't like anything that doesn't put him on a pedestal.
   He doesn't have to like the negative stories, but he has to accept the facts that are reported by hardworking, ethical journalists. Of course, he never will, and that is terrifying. By discrediting the media, he is discrediting a vital element in the checks and balances of our democracy. And setting the stage for something none of us want to imagine.
   Many readers fondly remember my father's column, which was satirically funny in nature. All of us wonder what fun he would have had satirizing our current President. But I doubt he would have found much humor in labeling the media "the enemy of the people." It's too close to home, and too serious. And as I said, too terrifying.
 

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