That near-instantaneous partisan reaction to Streep's speech obscures — as it so often does — what I believe to be the most important sentence of her address. That is this one: “We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call him on the carpet for every outrage.”
Now, yes, Trump is right that Streep was a prominent supporter of his opponent. And, yes, saying that the media needs to call him “on the carpet for every outrage” is probably not the sort of thing Streep would have said if Clinton had been elected.
But, for me, the first part of Streep's sentence above — “We need the principled press to hold power to account” — is the sort of thing that every single person who likes democracy, a healthy one at least, should applaud.
The most unfortunate thing about the 2016 election — and this was a culmination of something that had been growing for the past few presidential elections — was the near-constant attempts to disqualify the press, to suggest that the media had picked one side or the other and, therefore, couldn't be trusted.
This was not an equal effort. Trump did more to vilify and dehumanize the media than any presidential candidate in modern history. From his insistence that the media were “some of the most dishonest people” to his calling-out of individual reporters to his almost constant efforts to argue that the media was making up news to hurt him, Trump was relentless in his efforts to convince people that the media was biased.
But forces allied with Clinton did their part, too — and continue to do so. The idea that her decision to set up a private email server while at the State Department was a nonissue being covered by the media only because they didn't like Clinton was — and is — the most pervasive example. There are others.
The broader point is that you now have the media at near-record lows in terms of trust. Just 8 percent of people said they had a “great deal” of trust in newspapers, TV news and news on the Internet in the most recent Gallup “Institutions” poll. That put all three institutions very close to the bottom of all institutions when it came to trust.
There is NO question that the media has not covered itself in glory over the past decade or so. And that, therefore, we deserve some of the blame for the trust problem. But you also shouldn't underestimate just how much damage the image of the media has taken from nonstop attempts — for political gain — to disenfranchise and disqualify the practice of journalism.
Back to Streep's line: “We need the principled press to hold power to account.” Yes, we do. You can hate the media. You can choose not to trust us. (I think that's the result of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch — but that's for another piece.) What you should never wish for is the death, disappearance or diminution of journalism.
We've already seen — amid a massive scaling-back of local media reporting and resources — that power unchecked by a watchdog runs rampant. Whether you like me or the media more generally, you should root like hell for people who are paid to keep tabs on the promises our politicians make, on the people they surround themselves with and on the policies they choose to pursue. Without such a check and balance, the powerful become ever more powerful and the powerless have less and less recourse to do anything about it. That's a bipartisan reality.
The ability to complain about the media is a luxury. And my guess is that lots of people complaining about the media would like a world without a free and independent press a whole hell of a lot less.