National Press Club

Marvin Kalb: With a free press, you are going to be free

November 18, 2018 | By Joe Luchok |

Marvin Kalb (right) and National Press Club Board of Governors member Michael Freedman.

Marvin Kalb (right) and National Press Club Board of Governors member Michael Freedman.

Photo/Image: Craig Shearman

Speaking to an audience at the National Press Club on Thursday, Nov. 15, Marvin Kalb said President Donald Trump’s “attacks on the press are attacks on the foundation of democracy.”

Kalb was discussing his book “Enemy of the People: Trump’s War on the Press, the New McCarthyism, and the Threat to American Democracy.”

Kalb explained that the term “enemy of the people” goes back to the time of the Roman Empire when calling someone an enemy of the people was prelude to executing that person. He said the term was also used to justify execution during the French revolution and by dictators throughout history. He said he does not think the president is aware of the history of the words.

Asked if the press could get together and boycott White House press briefings to protest the pulling of CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s White House credentials Kalb responded, “That is the dumbest idea I have heard in a long time.” He explained that it would be almost impossible to get the media to agree on any course of action. The job of reporters is to get the facts of a story and tell the story, not act as an opposing force, he said.

When asked why he was so concerned about Trump when other presidents have battled with the press Kalb replied, “For the first time in my life I am frightened by an American president.” He explained that while President Richard Nixon had battles with the press and even had an enemies list, he was a professional politician. Kalb continued, “I never believed Nixon would undermine the government but I do believe that about Trump.”

Kalb also spoke about the media. He pointed out that during the 2016 campaign the media had more than twice as much free coverage of Trump than it had of Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton because Trump was hot copy. He said “The media continues participate in the Trump reality show.”

Asked if there were lessons from the Sen. Joseph McCarthy. R-Wis. "Red Scare" era that could be applied today Kalb said, “The world has changed and you could not have an Edward Murrow today,” referring to the CBS newsman who faced down McCarthy. He explained that there are no reporters today with the power and the audience that Murrow had.

Kalb said that “fake news” is not creation of Trump. He explained that many people were angry over coverage of Watergate and Vietnam and that created a distrust of the media. He said Trump did not create the anger, he exploited it.

Kalb ended the evening by say he could be wrong and major changes may not occur. Kalb was interviewed by Michael Freedman, Club treasurer and executive producer of "The Kalb Report."