Mitt Romney calls the free press ‘essential’ in essay that critiques Trump’s attacks on the media

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Mitt Romney speaks in Orem after winning the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Tuesday June 26, 2018.

America is “indebted” to the free press for its work reporting on the Vietnam War, Watergate and sexual crimes committed by priests and other men in power, Senate candidate Mitt Romney wrote in an essay released Thursday.

“The free press dispelled the false conspiracies about the 9/11 attacks, President Obama’s birth, and Joe McCarthy’s lurking communists,” Romney wrote. “The work of a free press is essential.”

The former Massachusetts governor and two-time presidential candidate describes in the essay how media consumption has changed in his lifetime — from a reliance on daily newspapers, national publications and a limited number of television networks during his youth in Detroit to the modern proliferation of curated online content that reinforces biases and in some cases contains propaganda from campaigns, political parties or foreign adversaries.

The result of those trends, Romney said, is that America’s political disagreements now lack a shared understanding of basic facts.

“This represents a growing challenge for democracy, dependent as it is upon a citizenry informed by fact and truth,” Romney wrote. “It also underscores the vital role played by professional news organizations. They may be more critical today than ever before.”

Romney’s essay, the latest in a series of written statements posted to the Republican candidate’s campaign website, follows renewed attacks on the mainstream media by President Donald Trump. The essay references a Monday tweet by the president, in which Trump appeared to respond to a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh by attributing anger in the country to “The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People.”

Romney wrote that all U.S. presidents have likely been frustrated with the media, but none before Trump has vilified news outlets as the enemy of the American people.

“And, more importantly, denigrating the media diminishes an institution that is critical to democracy, both here and abroad,” Romney wrote. “As a political tactic, it may be brilliant, but it comes with a large cost to the cause of freedom.”

In a prepared statement, Romney’s Democratic Senate opponent, Jenny Wilson, said it is no secret that Trump reacts inappropriately when he is held accountable, including by lashing out at members of the press.

“Investigative and thorough reporting must continue to be a check on those in power — regardless of who holds office,” Wilson said. “And, as citizens, we have to support our local press and regional news outlets, who have their fingers on the pulse of our communities.”

On Wednesday, Salt Lake Tribune owner and Publisher Paul Huntsman explained the paper’s endorsement of Romney on the “Trib Talk” podcast. He said Romney’s experience as a national political candidate makes him uniquely positioned to address challenges facing the state and nation as a freshman member of the Senate, if elected.

“This is a great opportunity," Huntsman said, “for not only our state but also for the country to have someone of that stature to be able to help solve some of these problems.”

Huntsman also criticized elected leaders, including some of Utah’s, who have failed to defend the media against Trump’s attacks.

Freedom of the press is a pillar of the U.S. Constitution, the publisher said, which members of Congress take an oath to defend when they are sworn into office.

“There are certain [representatives] that we have here in our state that like to claim that they’re experts on the Constitution,” Huntsman said. “Well, here we have a direct attack on the Constitution, and they don’t say a word about it.”

Romney’s essay ends with an anecdote from a campaign stop, in which a constituent asked whether he would take action in the Senate to shut down national news outlets like The New York Times. Romney said he answered “of course not” and found it disturbing that the constituent pressed the issue.

He said he is sometimes irritated by inaccurate reporting, particularly when he is the subject of that reporting. But a free press, even when it is biased, is guaranteed by the Constitution because of the role it plays in preserving democracy, he wrote.

“The media is essential to our Republic, to our freedom, to the cause of freedom abroad, and to our national security,” Romney wrote. “It is very much our friend.”

A spokeswoman for Romney declined to comment on the essay, or provide examples of inaccurate reporting that irritated the candidate.