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A call to action for journalists covering President Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, accompanied by his wife, Melania, walk out to his motorcade after voting at a public school in Midtown in New York City on Tuesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

One thing is certain in the presumptive era of President Trump. Journalists are going to have to be better — stronger, more courageous, stiffer-spined — than they’ve ever been.

Donald Trump made hatred of the media the centerpiece of his campaign. Journalists were just cogs in a corporate machine, part of the rigged system. If many Americans distrusted us in the past, they came to actively hate us.

His threats to change the laws that protect the press resonated with people who felt that the media is a protected class that gets away with far too much — those who cheered at being put out of business.

What we can’t do is buckle. What we can’t do is slink off and hope someone else will take care of it.

We have to keep doing our jobs of truth-telling, challenging power and holding those in power accountable — as the best journalists did during the campaign itself.

Early on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016, President-elect Donald Trump addressed supporters in New York. Here are key moments from that speech. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

We have to be willing to fight back.

“More than ever, we will need fearless and deep journalism,” Dan Gillmor, a journalist who teaches at Arizona State University, tweeted. “Do we have news media that even want to deliver it, apart from a few?”

I don’t know the answer to that, and I worry whether journalistic organizations — including this one — will continue to challenge a man who has shown how little taste he has for anything except adulation.

Trump may turn out to be accessible to the press — he loves the exposure, after all. Even after banning The Washington Post from his rallies, he did interviews with Post reporters; earlier, he sat for 20 hours with Post journalists writing a book about him.

But that desire to feed his ego shouldn't be confused with being a friend of the press. The Committee to Protect Journalists was right when it warned about the dangers a Trump presidency would pose. Somehow it seemed hypothetical when they did so a few weeks ago.

In a couple of months, all of those warnings will move into the realm of reality. It’s scary. But it’s time to toughen up and be as good as we can be, all of us.

“Stop saying you’re going to move to Canada. What you’ve got here is worth defending,” Jameel Jaffer, director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, wrote on Twitter.

We’re about to find out just how sturdy a document the U.S. Constitution is and whether its crucial First Amendment is any kind of defense against executive power run amok.

I deeply hope that journalists won’t normalize Trump’s behavior, as we started to see in the “Well, I guess Americans just wanted change” narrative on cable news networks as the states started to pile up for him. In fact, as it turned out, his followers wanted to throw the entire government and its values onto the bonfire.

I hope, too, that owners of news organizations are willing to finance court battles, because that seems very likely to be necessary in the months and years ahead. Trump is nothing if not litigious.

Fighting back will be far more difficult in an environment in which newspaper companies are seeing their traditional sources of revenue dropping precipitously.

It’s also going to be more difficult in a world in which people wear T-shirts that read: “Tree. Rope. Journalist. (Some assembly required.)” That’s been seen at Trump rallies and heartily approved of on social media.

There’s one other thing I’m sure of.

If January 2017 isn’t going to herald disaster for press rights — and the citizens served by a free and independent press — we’re going to need some help. We’re going to need some heroes.

This post has been updated.

For more by Margaret Sullivan, visit