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Trump, democracy, and freedom of the press 

Donald Trump isn't the first president who has attacked the press.

And the Trump supporters shouting insults at the media aren't the first Americans to hurl their hatred at us. During the early days of this nation, attacks on the press were common. And violent.

But President Trump's incendiary attacks on the press have become so frequent, and so severe, that they should disturb all Americans, whatever their political leaning. And so today, CITY is joining newspapers across the country who are publishing editorials on the importance of the press and press freedom.

Presidents throughout the country's history have complained about newspapers' treatment of them – often in colorful language – but they have also recognized the importance of the press as a cornerstone of democracy. President Trump's attacks on the press, on the other hand, increasingly resemble the behavior of a dictator.

Most troubling: many Americans agree with him. In an Ipsos opinion poll earlier this month, 26 percent of respondents said the president "should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior." And 43 percent of Republicans thought presidents should have that power.

Without the press, however, an informed democracy is impossible.

Our journalists attend government meetings, interview elected officials, and search government records. We talk with citizen activists, neighborhood groups, business officials, union members, farmworkers, immigrants, teachers, police officers, developers, individual citizens. We interview political candidates during campaigns.

We inform people about the community they live in, writing about research scientists, rock musicians, artists, helping readers create a sense of community and enhance their community's quality of life.

We try to shine a light on injustice. We write about the community's shortcomings and the people who need help, and we try to help residents find ways to work together to build a stronger society.

And we provide a public forum, giving readers a place to share views on community issues. Parcel 5, voting rights, police oversight, affordable housing, racism, climate change, public transit, public education: all have been topics of our own coverage recently, and of readers' comments.

None of us are perfect. Journalists and editors are human beings, and human beings make mistakes. But imperfect as we are, our aim is to seek the truth and share it with our readers, who are the sole group of people we're committed to serving.

The need for a strong, free press is particularly acute right now, in this period of division, separateness, and anger in the United States. To get along with our neighbors, to seek tolerance and understanding, to prod elected officials, to work for a better Rochester, a better United States, a better planet requires education and communication. And that requires a strong, free press.

President Trump clearly enjoys calling the press The Enemy of the People. Does he believe what he says, or does he simply relish the response he gets? It hardly matters. Words can lead to action. Many news media outlets have received threats. Some have started hiring security guards for reporters. Some have installed security measures at their buildings. The murder of journalists at the Capital Gazette in Maryland in June is still on many journalists' minds.

Physical violence aimed at journalists isn't the only danger, though. The bigger threat is to the country's democracy.

Imperfect as we are, the nation's journalists are not enemies of the people. And when the president of the United States verbally attacks us, he is attacking something vital to the functioning of the country's democracy.

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