Presidential Feuds with the Press are Nothing New

History is always a good teacher.

If you were to visit the National Archives building in Washington, D.C., you’d see two separate statues just outside its Pennsylvania Avenue entrance.

One is a sculpture that contains a paraphrase of a quote from Confucius. It reads, “Study the past.” The figure is holding a closed book representing history’s previous events.

The other is a sculpture titled, “Future,” and at its base is a line from Shakespeare’s “Tempest” – “What is Past is Prologue.”

In other words, everything that’s happened contributes to everything that’s happening today and that will occur tomorrow.

President Trump’s ongoing feud with the press is a matter of continuing intrigue, often played up on both sides of the ideological spectrum, though with opposing motives.

It’s not unusual for commentators to plead for greater civility between the press and the president – a return to the “good old days” when everybody got along.

Yet, if you study the past, you’ll discover those days were actually a lot like these days.

Thomas Jefferson despised the media of his day, once writing, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”

The late legendary ABC newsman David Brinkley began his reporting career in 1943 by covering President Franklin Roosevelt. Brinkley, who was sympathetic to FDR’s agenda, tells the story of being called into the president’s office twice a week for press conferences.

Due to the president’s physical limitations, members of the press would encircle the desk and fire questions at the nation’s chief executive. He says FDR was deft at skirting questions he didn’t want to answer by simply replying, with a wave of the hand, “Oh, well, there’s no news on that today.”

But Brinkley acknowledged that Roosevelt despised members of the press corps and wasn’t shy about it at all:

“Franklin Roosevelt hated many of the newspapers because they hated him and he reciprocated as best he could by making nasty remarks about them, particularly the Republican papers, which were always attacking and tearing him apart. He hated them and he let them know it. He didn’t like their reporters. He felt they reflected wrongly his own personal views and distorted them.”

Sound familiar?

President Roosevelt decided that the best way to combat the press was to go around and above them by beginning his famous “fireside chats” on the radio. The radio, which was still in its infancy, enabled him to communicate directly to the American people without any filter.

Whether or not you agree with President Trump, it has to be acknowledged that he’s taken a similar tack via Twitter or through daily press briefings. In fact, it was reported yesterday that he’s previously considered starting his own radio show.

In response, radio icon Rush Limbaugh offered the president time on his program, even suggesting Mr. Trump might well take over for him one day.

Radio remains a wonderfully intimate medium and one that Dr. Dobson and Focus on the Family helped pioneer on the Christian airwaves beginning in 1977. It’s a great honor for me to talk with many of you on a daily basis. Over 6.8 million of you listen each week – but I always feel like I’m talking to just you.

In the end, I think it’s helpful to remember that partisan or ideological sparring between political leaders and members of the media is – and will always be – part of our nation’s fabric. It’s a characteristic of the free press.

As believers, though, we need to filter everything we hear and see through our biblical worldview. It may matter what the president or media says – but even more importantly, what do the Scriptures say about the issue at hand?

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,” said Jesus, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

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Jim Daly

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