There’s an old saying in the newspaper business: Doctors bury their mistakes; we publish ours.
So, my abject apologies to readers, and U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, for misstating in last month’s column the margin by which Newhouse beat his opponent in 2016. I said it was 1.6 percent, but that was in 2014. In the 2016 election I was alluding to, Newhouse won by more than 15 percent.
There’s enough confusion about “facts” in today’s political discourse without people like me inadvertently adding to the befuddlement. You have every right to demand factual accuracy from journalists. That’s what you pay us for, after all. Lamentably, it’s not always what you get.
Journalists eternally are targets of scorn, some of it well earned. Right now, though, journalism is having one of its better moments. Bless Donald Trump. He’s sharpened up our profession by declaring the free press “an enemy of the people.”
Bad form, Mr. President. Still, better for us than for you. You and your key political strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, are overplaying your hand, telegraphing unseemly enthusiasm for authoritarian tactics.
You see, we’ve heard this “enemy of the people” stuff before. Oddly enough, it unfailingly seems to come from those who have something other than a democratic society’s best interests at heart. Dictators historically have risen to power by first destroying public trust in institutions capable of thwarting their autocratic rule.
So when you resort to this shopworn ploy, Mr. President, it makes us wonder: Does your effort to discredit journalists spring from a wish to achieve un-American goals? To divert attention from your job performance? Or is it simply a display of un-presidential petulance?
All American presidents despair of the press, and who can blame them? Journalists are uncontrollable. Skeptical. Some are barely housebroken.
This bears repeating: Despite our manifold flaws, journalists exist to serve citizens, not presidents. They’re the public’s watchdog, Mr. President, not your lapdog. And despite what Bannon whispers in your ear, this does not make journalists “an opposition political party.”
Professional journalists try to ask the questions citizens want to ask. They try to inform the governed about the actions of those whom they’ve asked to govern them. While respectful of the office of the presidency, most reporters have a politely adversarial relationship with its temporary tenant. This is precisely as it should be in any republic that depends for its existence on freedom of speech and the press.
So when a president calls journalists enemies of the people, it’s time to re-read the Constitution.
Anti-democratic behavior by presidents most readily can be thwarted by the judiciary, congress and, to a much lesser extent, news organizations.
Trump has fired four warning shots across the judiciary’s bow. He’s attacked two federal judges personally and, after it blocked his second travel ban, insinuated that our region’s Ninth U.S. District Court should be abolished. His lawyers even had the temerity to argue in court that judges have no authority to review the constitutionality of a president’s actions.
“Hair-on-fire!” alert, people: The president of the United States has served unmistakable notice that he gives but grudging respect to constitutional rule of law and to the judiciary with which he shares power.
The Republican congress, meanwhile, is supine; it will not bestir itself to right the ship of state. Too busy trying to enrich the rich and deprive Americans of health care.
It’s not just judges and journalists Trump seeks to discredit. It’s all bearers of inconvenient news, including science-based federal agencies and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
The CBO informs lawmakers about the real-world effects of their budget votes. Before the CBO could assess the appalling effects of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s ill-fated, Trump-endorsed replacement for Obamacare, the CBO was pre-emptively trashed by the administration.
Ryan calls demolishing Obamacare “an act of mercy.” Tell that to those — 14 million in the first year alone — who the CBO said would have lost insurance under the Ryan/Trump plan. In Washington state, 700,000 people eventually would have fallen off the insurance rolls, according to the state insurance commissioner and governor.
And how’s this for inconvenient news? Trump voters would have gotten the worst of it.
Obamacare’s tax credits help poorer Americans under age 65 in rural, high-cost health care regions cope with unaffordable health insurance premiums.
Elderly residents in rural areas where Trump did well are among those who would have suffered the biggest financial losses under the Ryan/Trump plan. For starters, insurers could have charged older people five times more than younger ones; even under Obamacare, it’s three times as much. Plus, 60-year-olds with $30,000 in income in some rural areas stood to lose up to $12,950 in tax credits by 2020.
But urban dwellers — who voted against Trump — would have profited from the Ryan/Trump plan, an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation published in the Washington Post showed. For example:
A 40-year-old making $30,000 in rural Grant County, Nebraska — which voted 93 percent for Trump — would by 2020 have lost access to $3,670 in tax credits available under Obamacare.
But urban 40-year-olds earning $30,00 in areas that did not vote for Trump would have been rewarded under the Ryan/Trump plan with an additional $1,000 to $2,000 more in tax credits by 2020, the foundation says.
Sweet. Who knew Trump would show such generosity to his opponents while punishing his supporters?
Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.