OXFORD — Halloween is over for another year, but I was reminded last week of something scarier than people dressed up as goblins.
No, not Donald Trump railing at the media during his speech at Tupelo. He’s not the first, nor will he be the last, president to dislike news coverage, although he has taken anti-news media rhetoric to a new level.
I’m referring to the significant number of people in the United States who think he should have the power to shut down media outlets.
David E. McCraw, the top newsroom lawyer for The New York Times, referred to an Ipsos poll, taken in the late summer of 2018, that reflects a remarkable disrespect of the First Amendment.
McCraw, a former journalist who was smart enough to eventually go to law school, is the author of the book “Truth in Our Times.”
On the day before Halloween, he reflected on various issues facing journalism during a program at the Overby Center for Southern Politics and Journalism at the University of Mississippi.
The 2018 Ipsos poll found that 48% of self-identified Republicans agree “the news media is the enemy of the American people.” Forty-three percent said they believe “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.”
Only 12% of Democrats polled said they believe the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior, bringing the average of those willing to move to a totalitarian government under 28%.
Ironically, though, there was a consensus in the poll of 85% who believe that a free press is essential for American democracy, and 88% think free speech is one of the values that make America great.
That sounds a little better, but it is still alarming that more than 10% of Americans hold no regard for a bedrock of democracy and some who do still think the president should be able to shut down news outlets.
Maybe the late comedian and social critic George Carlin was on to something when he said: “Think about how stupid the average person is, and then realize that half of ’em are stupider than that.”
There’s no question President Trump has stirred up a lot of resentment against the so-called “mainstream media” with his speeches and tweets, many of which are laced with untruths.
I wonder how many of his admirers — some of whom must have been included in that Ipsos poll — would be willing to give the same authority to shut down media outlets to Elizabeth Warren if she becomes president. Look out Fox News.
Speaking of Fox News, Howard Kurtz, the host of Fox News’ Media Buzz program, wrote this last year:
“Now this is a theoretical exercise. The First Amendment protects even the worst media offender from government interference (though not from being banned by Facebook and Twitter). In fact, there are laws that would prevent a president from shutting down any private company by fiat.
“But I guess many of the respondents are voting based on disgust.
“I would ask the 43% of Republicans: How would you feel if Barack Obama was still president and wanted to shut down media outlets he didn't like? Wouldn't you be screaming bloody murder?
“So is this just your way of affirming that you love Trump, detest the media and just wish some of these outlets could be made to disappear?
“And, uh, whatever happened to conservative passion for the free market?
“A caveat about the poll: The Ipsos methodology, involving online panels and statistical adjustments, is not as reliable as a random telephone survey. But even if the numbers are somewhat off, they are still troubling.”
As McCraw pointed out in his remarks, with all the conflicting information out there in the various media, including the internet, it’s “very hard to be a citizen today.”
In my view too many people look to a single source for their information, especially on the national level, and it’s usually the source with which they tend to agree.
To be better informed, check out those major stories on various news outlets, all of which have a constitutional right, as of now, to stay in business.
• Charles M. Dunagin is the retired editor and publisher of the Enterprise-Journal in McComb. He lives in Oxford.