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Want a free country? Start with free press

America’s news media continue to be the target of a verbal beating by President Donald Trump, who has continued to call the reporting of many news outlets — print and electronic — “fake news.”

The president also has voiced many other unflattering phrases directed at the media and specific reporters.

The president might be justified regarding some of his media criticisms, but anyone who thinks all or most of them are justified either is naive or out of touch with the current goings-on in the nation’s capital.

The media aren’t corrupt and, for a nation that, up to the Trump years, has for the most part valued the existence of the free press, should now be deeply concerned about attempts to undermine the media.

What’s currently happening in Russia should cause all Americans, and especially those who continue to demonize the media, to stop and think what America might be like if the news media, including the Mirror, were silenced.

Since Aug. 8, Russia has been dealing with a nuclear accident — an explosion at a missile test site — that the rest of the world knows too little about — primarily because Russia’s news is managed by the government.

Increasingly, observers have been speculating that Russia is attempting to minimize information about a weapon that apparently was being tested when the explosion occurred.

Meanwhile, at least four nuclear monitoring stations in Russia have shut down; on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that “Russia may also be trying to minimize publicity about the extent of the plume from the missile-test explosion and the radioactive elements it contains.”

Contrast all that with the virtually instantaneous, extensive news coverage — and the state and federal governments’ transparency — immediately after disaster struck the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg in 1979.

Following the Aug. 8 blast in Russia, it took days for Russian authorities to release any significant information about the incident, and even that information was woefully anemic regarding what really happened and why.

That’s nothing new on the part of Russia and the former Soviet Union. It took days for Soviet officials to admit the April 26, 1986 explosion and fire at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant — still considered the worst nuclear disaster in history.

There were no free Soviet media to break the story until Soviet leaders were ready to admit that a “minor accident” had occurred.

Move ahead 14 years to Aug. 12, 2000, when the Russian government began misleading and manipulating the public and news media about the sinking of the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk in the Barents Sea, a tragedy that claimed the lives of all 118 personnel on board.

In their desire to release as little information as possible, Russian officials refused immediate help from other governments, dooming some crew members who are believed to have survived the first of at least two explosions.

Russia is a prime example of what can happen in a nation absent a free press.

Good advice to Americans: Criticize the free press when you feel it is fairly justified, but be wary of advocating the media’s demise just because you don’t agree with particular coverage, for political or whatever reasons.

Without the free media, America would be a much worse place, and even media opponents would wake up someday to that troubling realization — but it might be too late.

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