“Memo to Donald Trump: Thomas Jefferson invented hating the media.”

From a Washington Post story by Lindsey Bever headlined “Memo to Donald Trump: Thomas Jefferson invented hating the media”:

During his time as U.S. minister to France, Thomas Jefferson penned a letter to a statesman from Virginia, waxing poetic about the importance of a free press.

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right,” Jefferson wrote to Edward Carrington in 1787. “And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. . . .”

Those words would help identify the Founding Father as a champion of the press.

But as Jefferson was writing them, scholars say, he did not foresee that newspapers would become a partisan tool for warring political factions in a climate of unrest and uncertainty. . . .

By the time he was approaching his presidency, anxieties were high and newspapers had taken a critical stance. Jefferson in turn had taken critical tone with them, at least in his in personal letters, in which he often excoriated the press — much as the 45th president, Donald Trump, would do more than 200 years later.

“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper,” Jefferson said then.

“FAKE NEWS media … makes up stories and ‘sources,’” Trump tweets now. . . .

Trump has repeatedly lambasted the media, first for its coverage of his presidential campaign and, now, of his administration. During a combative 75-minute news conference Thursday, the president continued to air his grievances, saying, “I’ve never seen more dishonest media than, frankly, the political media.”. . .

Once Jefferson was in office, he tried to censor the critical press.

“In his second term, in response to serious criticism from the New England newspapers … he instructed the state attorney generals in New England to prosecute the newspaper editors for sedition in the same way he had opposed such behavior when it was done by the federal government,” said Joseph Ellis, the historian.

The move further alienated Jefferson from the journalists, as well as the clergy.

It was during his second term in 1806 that Jefferson wrote to U.S. Rep. Barnabas Bidwell of Massachusetts, “As for what is not true you will always find abundance in the newspapers.”

The next year, Jefferson made his opinion known in a letter to John Norvell, a politician, lawyer and journalist who had written to him about plans to start his own newspaper.

“To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted, so as to be most useful, I should answer, ‘by restraining it to true facts and sound principles only,'” Jefferson said. “Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more completely deprive the nation of it’s benefits, than is done by it’s abandoned prostitution to falsehood.

“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”. . .

Lindsey Bever is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post, covering national news with an emphasis on health. She was previously a reporter at the Dallas Morning News.

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