This piece is “Ne vous y Frottez Pas!! Liberté de la Presse”, loosely translated from the French as “Do not meddle with the Freedom of the Press.” In 1832, Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) served time in prison for an inflammatory caricature of King Louis-Philippe. Two years later, he drew this defiant image of a strong young printer personifying the freedom of the press. On the right hand side, we see the fallen King Charles X, attended by foreign monarchs with money bags. On the right hand side, the angry figure waving an umbrella is intended for Louis-Philippe.
The warning this art from 1834 is simple: press censorship will lead to revolution and the ending of the monarchy.
Since Trump announced his candidacy for president, he has regularly attacked the news media. He called them Fake News, especially when they report negative information about him. He warned his supporters to only trust his word. He has regularly and, as recently as three days ago, branded them as the enemy of the people, even though they are a constitutionally protected entity.
When you call a group of people an enemy, when you label an entire an entity as a threat to our democracy, someone will eventually act on that threat in the hopes of being a hero.
Today, several people at an Annapolis, Maryland paper lie dead after a white gunman entered their offices and shot them. He was successful in attacking what he considered to be an enemy of democracy. To many on the right, he will be hailed as a hero.
The free press is not the enemy of the people. It serves as a watchdog, providing what was once called “organized, expert scrutiny of government.” The metaphor of a “fourth estate” sitting in the reporter’s gallery keeping an eye on the three branches of government may have diminishing contemporary relevance, but its importance still stands. The press creates communities in which democratic dialogue can occur. Without some core of shared information and common purposes, there can be no meaningful discussion of public issues. If bowling alone is sad, talking alone is pathological.
Journalists put their lives on the line in search of the truth. In countries like Syria and Iran, to be a journalist is to place a target on your back. The same now holds true for the United States. But much like that French piece of the 19th century warned, censorship of the press will end monarchies. It will also end those who threaten the will of the people. Manson told others to kill and went to prison. Trump advocates violence and celebrates perpetrators of crimes towards those who oppose him. What happens next?
To my friends who are journalists or work for news organizations, keep fighting for the truth. Keep standing for what’s right. Continue to investigate what matters most in order to discover the information that will change the world.
You are the guardians of democracy. And I will always stand with you.
Together, we’re living through a battle for the soul of this nation