Do Americans care? That was the question about the White House’s attacks on journalism in the Trump era when ICWAns gathered in Washington for the institute’s semi-annual dinner at the Cosmos Club on June 7. Click here for photos.
The veteran broadcaster Marvin Kalb addressed the topic head-on in a forceful keynote address. A month after the 2017 inauguration, he said, he received a call from a friend at the White House–“I have very few friends who work at the White House,” he qualified–to warn that the president planned to state in a speech that the American press is the “enemy of the people.”
“No American president had ever described the press as the enemy of the people,” Marvin said, listing other leaders who had used the expression to describe the press corps in their countries: Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini and Mao.
Trump is hardly the first to denounce the press, he said. “But he has played it now to the hilt with ‘fake news’ and ‘enemy of the people’ and this is part of a global development today.” And it’s highly dangerous, Marvin added. “It is dangerous for the position of the United States, it is dangerous for democracy in this country and in many parts of the Western world.”
Marvin recounted long talks with the legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow–who hired him to work for CBS News in 1957–about Murrow’s admiration for Germans in the mid-1930s, when he worked as a correspondent in Europe. “Wonderful people, fabulous people… listening to Mozart, doing all kinds of wonderful things.” But when he returned to Berlin in late 1938, those same Germans were in uniform and “mouthing Hitlerian doctrine, and he could not understand how it was possible for a people to change within three years… it was something that haunted him to the day he died.”
That worry informed Murrow’s response to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade, “to do everything he could to ensure freedom would remain the basis of American democracy.” Murrow’s week-long series of radio and television programs in 1954 lowered McCarthy’s popularity ratings from 48 percent–he was the second-most popular Republican after Eisenhower–to 32 percent, effectively doing more to bring down McCarthy than the televised Army-McCarthy hearings that soon followed.
“Are we today as a people as open-minded as we were in 1954?” Marvin asked. “If the answer is no, we have a big, big problem.”