Recently, I had the great fortune of spending a week is Lisbon. During my visit, I had fascinating conversations about history and politics. From 1932 to 1968, the country was ruled by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar—to some a great leader, to others a despotic ruler. Indeed, Salazar achieved success in Portugal’s economic growth in those years, but he also imprisoned critics and controlled the press. The fall of his party, the Estado Novo, came four years after his death in 1968 and a democratically elected government came into being in 1974. Although over 40 years ago, the memories of suppression, imprisonments and a lack of freedom of speech are still vivid. Sitting at a café, chatting, our host said, “50 years ago, we would be arrested for having this conversation.”
When talking with people, the conversation would inevitably turn to American politics, especially the new administration. Trump’s attacks on the press are especially concerning, calling the press "the enemy of the people" and singling out the NYTimes and CNN as "A great danger to our country." The Times, plus a number of other news agencies were barred from the daily White House briefing, an event that the Times called a "highly unusual breach of relations between the White House and its press corps".
Although the White House played down the events, the Committee to Protect Journalists, which typically advocates freedom of the press in countries with despotic regimes, issued a statement on Friday about Mr. Trump’s escalating language. “It is not the job of political leaders to determine how journalists should conduct their work, and sets a terrible example for the rest of the world,” said the group’s executive director, Joel Simon. “The U.S. should be promoting press freedom and access to information.”
To our Portuguese friends, and to us, these were chilling events. When a government begins attacking news outlets that aren’t reporting favorably, the very foundations of our democracy are rattled. It’s our responsibility, as citizens, to assess and carefully evaluate where and how we get our news. It takes time and research and hard work. So does democracy.