MIDDLETOWN - The way former Rep. Chris Gibson sees it, one reason why President Donald Trump is targeting the news media is because his approval ratings have been stuck below 40 percent, and that’s because he divided the electorate to win the presidency.

“It backfired,” said Gibson, a Republican who served three terms in the House of Representatives, representing part of the Hudson Valley. “If you divide to win, the public isn’t going to love you.”

Gibson was one of four panelists who spoke at Wednesday’s “A Free Press Under Attack” seminar at SUNY Orange, sponsored by Orange County Democratic Women and the Times Herald-Record.

As the session opened, the moderator, Barry Lewis, the Record’s executive editor, talked about how two journalists were physically attacked during 2017, how Trump has threatened to yank NBC-TV’s license because of the network’s news reporting, and how Trump has suggested that it should be easier to file libel suits.

Another panelist, New Paltz-based lawyer Stephen Bergstein, whose practice focuses on civil rights and employment discrimination, warned that changes in libel laws could have a chilling effect on media outlets. “One lawsuit can wipe out a small- to- medium-sized newspaper,” Bergstein warned.

During the two-hour session, questions focused on how traditional media can survive, how social media, especially Twitter, has changed newsgathering, and what constitutes fake news.

Besides Gibson and Bergstein, the other two panelists were Adam Bosch, the public affairs director for New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, who teaches journalism at SUNY New Paltz, and Allison Dunne, a reporter for WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

Dunne, who covers 11 Hudson Valley counties for WAMC, warned of the dangers of sources, including politicians, going over reporters' heads, using Twitter to put out unreliable facts. “Everyone’s a journalist with Twitter,” Dunne said.

Bosch said citizen journalism, such as video provided by onlookers, can have a role in mainstream news coverage, but journalists need to use it “intelligently.”

Gibson noted that Trump has 49 million followers on Twitter. “Had it not been for Twitter, Donald Trump wouldn’t have been elected,” said Gibson, who now teaches government at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.

Willa Freiband, president of Orange County Democratic Women, said the group decided to organize Wednesday’s forum after Trump, in February 2017, sent out a tweet calling journalists “the enemy of the American people.” “That sounded like a line from (former Soviet premier Joseph) Stalin,” said Freiband.

As he wrapped up the session, Lewis, a new grandfather, asked the panel what the public can do to help mainstream media survive.

“We have to pay for it. We have to support it,” Bergstein said. “It isn’t just in the air. Write them a check.”