President-elect Donald Trump is continuing his war on the media. Throughout his campaign he would call out the press at nearly every event. He directed taunts at the press covering the events and called them out as disgusting and biased. He encouraged his rally supporters to boo and condemn the dishonest media covering those events. He vilified individual journalists by name and used his Twitter account as a megaphone to condemn their organizations. In an unprecedented “blacklisting”, he banned a number of media outlets from covering his events. He has threatened news organizations by demanding a change in libel laws so it would make it easier for him to sue those that criticize him.
Trump’s post-election behavior toward the press suggests this wasn’t just campaign rhetoric. Following the election, he has continued his attacks on the media by refusing them access, refusing to answer questions and refusing to allow pool press on his airplane. This has forced the media to rely on his tweets to provide coverage.
Bashing the media isn’t a new phenomenon. Remember Sarah Palin referring to the “lamestream media”. For years Republicans have been slamming the traditional news sources claiming they have a liberal bias. However, Trump has taken this to a new and dangerous level.
Trump’s unprecedented “blacklisting” of certain media outlets is a direct assault on freedom of the press. By preventing these reputable news organization access to his events sends a chilling signal reminiscent of a third world dictatorship. The editor of the Washington Post called those bans, “a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press.”
The Des Moines Register was one of the media outlets that he banned in July following their critical editorial of Trump. The newspaper’s press credentials were revoked following that editorial. Trump’s campaign manager told the newspaper, “We’re not issuing credentials to anyone from the Register based on the editorial that they wrote earlier in the week.”
Amalie Nash, the Register editor at the time, defended the editorial by saying, “As we previously said, the editorial has no bearing on our news coverage. We work hard to provide Iowans with coverage of all the candidates when they spend time in Iowa, and this is obviously impeding our ability to do so. We hope Mr. Trump’s campaign will revisit its decision instead of making punitive decisions because we wrote something critical of him.” In September, the Trump Campaign lifted the ban on several of the news outlets Trump had blacklisted.
This past Sunday, editorial writer for the Register Rekha Basu questioned whether the press will be allowed to do their job under Trump. She pointed to the dispute between former Register reporter Jeff Zeleny and Trump. Zeleny is currently a senior Washington correspondent with CNN. Zeleny called Trump a “sore winner” after Trump claimed Clinton only won the popular vote by “millions voting illegally.”
Trump went after Zeleny on Twitter by calling him, “just another generic CNN part-time wannabe journalist.” Basu warned that if the Trump administration bypasses the press the public will suffer. She wrote, “it would also put us in league with banana republics.”
Trump’s threats to change libel laws to make it easier to sue various publications is a blatant attempt to intimidate and cower the media. In February he suggested that the libel laws must be revised so media outlets could be sued over unfavorable coverage. “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when [journalists] write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” he said.
The New York Times wrote of the potential for changing libel laws a few days ago. They concluded it would be difficult based on previous Supreme Court rulings on libel. However, with Trump’s ability to significantly change the ideological makeup of the Court, anything is possible.
Two weeks ago at the Committee to Protect Journalists dinner in New York, a number of the country’s top journalists warned of threats to the free press from a Trump presidency.
New Yorker editor David Remnick warned, “This year the threats to press freedom are quite close to home. It’s right here.” CNN’s Christiane Amanpour called on fellow journalists to, “recommit to robust fact-based reporting” and to fight “against normalization of the unacceptable.” CNN president Jeff Zucker committed to fight Trump’s attacks on the press by stating, “We will hold the new administration’s feet to the fire. And they should respect that, even if they don’t welcome it.”
Republicans continually remind the public about following the Constitution. It will be their responsibility to remind Trump about America’s constitutional press freedoms.
First Amendment of the United States Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
by Rick Smith