Newspapers across the country have been asked to write editorials this week about the media being referred to as the “enemy of the people.” It’s a trendy phrase these days, with all the simplicity of good propaganda behind it. It’s catchy, it stirs up emotion and it’s not terribly specific.
Here at the HT we’re about as far from “mainstream” as you can get, but when someone says media is the “enemy of the people” we get lumped into that group, because we’re still part of the media.
Do we always agree with all the media? Of course not. To be perfectly honest, we don’t even agree with each other much of the time.
So where did that catchy little phrase take hold?
According to Wikipedia it was the title of a controversial 1882 play by Henrik Ibsen about a doctor and a newspaper editor who wanted to expose government corruption in a small town. The play was turned into a 1978 film starring Steve McQueen.
The phrase actually originated in Latin (long before any of us were babbling) as hostis publicus, which translates as “public enemy.” The phrase was picked up in rhetoric used by Joseph Stalin against his enemies in the Soviet Union and by Adolf Hitler in Germany against the Jews and anyone else who opposed the Third Reich.
American presidents John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt all took their turns griping about the media being unfair to them when their policies or administrations received negative press coverage.
In more recent history President Richard Nixon frequently decried the media and its coverage of his presidency. In hindsight he had good reason to be concerned since he was hiding Watergate. It’s an interesting track record.
But back to the present. How does it feel to be branded an “enemy of the people” just because of what you do for a living? It’s awkward, and a little unnerving, especially in light of the tragic deaths of five journalists at The Capital newspaper in Maryland in June when a gunman opened fire on the newspaper staff.
The gunman had been involved in a dispute with the newspaper since 2011 for its coverage of a criminal harassment suit against him. He lost the lawsuit, but continued to post violent messages on social media about the newspaper.
The gunman, who was found cowering under a desk after the shooting, has since pleaded not guilty to all charges.
That’s an extreme case, thank goodness, but it does give cause for concern. There are plenty of disgruntled folks out there with grievances—real or imagined—against the media. Is negative rhetoric such as what we’re hearing today likely to incite those people to take matters into their own hands and act out? Possibly.
So who is the real “enemy of the people” in our nation today? Some say the media, some say illegal immigrants, some say liberals, some say conservatives. Everybody is pointing a finger at somebody.
In my opinion, our greatest enemy is within our own hearts. The fear-based decision-making, unbridled hatred, division, polarization, anger, and inability to coexist, cooperate and compromise with people with whom we disagree is our real enemy, and that enemy isn’t limited to one particular industry, political party or any other classification of humanity.