Editorial: Nixon’s media defense is all wrong

Cortland Standard
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In the annals of attacks on the media, gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon is facing the wrong direction.
On Aug. 1, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to deflect a reporter’s question about campaign donation from an organization now under federal investigation with an attack on the reporter’s employer, Charter Communications, which has been ordered by the state to surrender its New York operation for apparently not meeting its promises regarding high-speed broadband access.
Nixon, the Green Party nominee and primary challenger to Cuomo, criticized Cuomo and alleged he threatened the media while they were doing their job. “Cuomo can’t hold himself up as New York’s answer to Donald Trump, and simultaneously threaten members of the press for doing their job,” Nixon said.
We appreciate Nixon’s desire to keep safe from attack a free news media holding public officials accountable, but this was the wrong place and the wrong attack.
Public officials have clashed with journalists since long before the First Amendment guaranteed freedom of speech and press. Sometimes, as Cuomo tried, they try to deflect the issue by attacking the reporter or the reporter’s employer.
That’s part of the scrum, the give and take that every public official and journalist engages in. NY1 reporter Zack Fink asked a hard question that Cuomo probably wasn’t prepared to answer. Cuomo tried to dodge. It happens. It happens hundreds of times a day, in fact. At the end of the day, Fink filed his story and Cuomo returned to governing.
Jousting with journalists is part of the profession of politics. A public leader deserves to face hard questions, and sometimes, a journalist deserves to be criticized.
Where we draw the line is when a public official tries to undermine the entire profession of journalism — and the entire class of people known as journalists. This is what President Donald Trump has been doing — the latest a series of attacks at campaign rallies.
United Nations experts say Trump’s attacks have raised the risk of violence against journalists, and undermined the essential function of the news media.
“These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law,” wrote David Kaye, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression, and Edison Lanza of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. “We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence.”
Labeling journalists “the enemy of the people” to a crowd — some of whom seen wearing T-shirts with the message “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.” and “CNN sucks” — does not advance the debate over what course a nation should take. It’s simply an effort to remove the last defense of popular government.
That’s not just by Trump supporters who don’t like CNN — and the heckling that ensues at his rallies. Protesters from the other side of the political spectrum intimidated a Fox News crew away from a protest at the Supreme Court.
Nixon, who hopes to be governor and may one day face journalists harder and more demanding than any paparazzo she’s ever encountered, needs to keep this in mind. A head-to-head confrontation between a public official and a reporter is part of the job, for both official and journalist.
But facing down a mob, or perhaps an uncontrolled assailant, egged on by what functions as hate speech, is another matter.

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