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Why we didn’t join the editorial campaign

On Thursday, hundreds of newspapers across the country joined in a coordinated editorial campaign led by the Boston Globe, defending the freedom of the press and denouncing President Donald Trump’s attacks on the press as “the enemy of the people,” “very dangerous and sick,” and his apparent favorite, “fake news.” This newspaper didn’t participate. Here’s why.

The Mail Tribune takes a back seat to no one in standing up for the First Amendment, for holding government accountable, for reporting the news, good or bad, without fear or favor. A free press is vital to the proper functioning of the American system of representative democracy, and we will continue to fulfill that role to the best of our ability.

But we are, first and foremost, a local, community newspaper. Our reporting staff does not cover the White House. Our focus is on city, county and state government. And surveys have shown that Americans generally trust their local news outlets to report accurately and fairly, while they may perceive bias in national outlets.

Our editorials — the opinions of our editorial board — are clearly separated from our news coverage and generally focus on local and regional issues of importance to our readers. Occasionally we weigh in on national issues, including President Trump’s fitness for office, which we have consistently questioned. But those are editorial opinions, not news stories.

Our editorial positions are determined by us, not by the Boston Globe or the New York Times or any other paper or group of papers. As important as a free press is, so is the independence of each editorial voice. We value that independence, and joining in an orchestrated expression of opinion with hundreds of other papers would dilute, not strengthen it.

Make no mistake: Trump’s attacks on reporters and the news operations they work for are nothing less than an assault on the civil fabric that holds our nation together. His attacks are dangerous, and un-American. It’s important that newspapers make that clear. But an orchestrated campaign is not the most effective way to do it.

Trump’s attacks reflect the president’s belief that the press is targeting him unfairly, conspiring to bring him down. Trump and his supporters who buy into that paranoia will see Thursday’s editorial campaign as proof of that conspiracy.

Predictably, Trump tweeted on Thursday morning, “THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA IS THE OPPOSITION PARTY. It is very bad for our Great Country....BUT WE ARE WINNING!”

And, in a tweet directed at the Boston Globe, he wrote, “Now the Globe is in COLLUSION with other papers on free press.”

President Trump’s now-familiar — and tiresome — tweets lashing out at his perceived adversaries are not confined to the press. They include members of Congress, federal officials in his own administration, members of his own Cabinet and former White House staffers. This behavior is unbecoming of the chief executive of the most powerful country on Earth. We know that, and we believe most Americans know that.

Also on Thursday, the U.S. Senate, by unanimous consent, passed a resolution declaring that the Senate “affirms that the press is not the enemy of the people; reaffirms the vital and indispensable role that the free press serves to inform the electorate, uncover the truth, act as a check on the inherent power of the government, further national discourse and debate ... and condemns the attacks on the institution of the free press and views efforts to systematically undermine the credibility of the press as an attack on the democratic institutions of the United States.”

This is what we have come to, 19 months into this administration: The Senate of the United States felt compelled to defend a free press against attacks from the president of the United States. That says more than any number of newspaper editorials could.

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