McCarthyism and you

BY TONY BOUZA

“An enemy of the people!” What irony. Does Pres. Trump even know the reference he uses so freely actually attaches to an Ibsen play in which a doctor discovers the therapeutic springs that attract tourists actually cause disease? The dilemma is obvious but the good doctor makes the right choice and destroys his livelihood.

Now the springs are replaced by the media and, in a probably unconscious revival of McCarthyism, our leader stokes the fires of hysteria against our most important institution—the free press.

We can’t forget that McCarthy’s Svengali was attorney Roy Cohn—an intimate friend of Trump’s until his death, probably of AIDS. The linkage is both ironic and unavoidable, and Cohn was in furious denial of his sexual identity to the bitter end.

I know I’ve beaten this horse many times before, but, out of fear for the institution’s viability, I keep coming back to the same theme—a reminder of the critical importance of a free and independent press to our democracy.

Let’s not be naïve.

What is the role of the press?

Mainly to inform you. Are you fascinated by the fact that your neighbor pays her bills, is faithful to her husband and regularly attends services? Is that news?

Or would you be more intrigued by a salacious scandal?

Get real.

News mostly centers on things we’re curious about or that we need to know to function as citizens. News is essential to our lives as Americans. We hunger and thirst for information and treat it cavalierly because it is so plentiful. Thank God for it.

Over the course of about 60 years of public life I’ve had frequent contact with the press, across a broad spectrum from flattery to condemnation. I have found the press to be truly and totally devoted to delivering honest accounts. Our press is an adornment of our society and, in my view, its most important institution.

There are [according to Louis XIV] the nobility, the clergy and the peasants, but the most important pillar of the nation is The Fourth Estate.

Attempting to undermine the people’s belief in the integrity of our media is profoundly subversive. It is McCarthyism at its hottest. To indulge in unfounded attacks on the press is to assault the bonds of trust that unite us. It is your responsibility, and mine, to defend this institution. Trump’s denunciations strike me as incitements. The right of a people to be informed is a wispy concept—yet real. How can we function without the information necessary to inform our actions? We in the NYPD had a joke that an FBI agent was assigned to cut out items from the N Y Times and stamp them “Secret.” I wrote a book about secret police intelligence operations in 1967 but managed to escape being censored for it. Publishing the Ellsberg Pentagon Papers was a useful public service, and I am far from sure that notorious leakers do less than a very valuable public service.

Why wait for the Nazis to win and drive the rest of us to the tender mercies of censorship? I am profoundly shocked by the silence. Won’t anyone come to the defense of the press?

The clouds gather.

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