Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Free Exercise? The Press v. Donald Trump


In mid-October before the Presidential Election, the Committee to Protect Journalists passed an unprecedented anti-Trump resolution. The nonprofit organization advocates for the rights of journalists all around the world. The group usually concentrates on the Middle East and other conflict-stricken areas where journalists routinely face repression and violence – foreign governments like Iran, China, and Pakistan. However, this resolution was directed squarely toward President-elect Donald Trump.

The CPJ's board members include Associated Press executive editor Kathleen Carroll, New Yorker editor David Remnick, CBS News correspondent Lara Logan, Univision News boss Isaac Lee, and many other prominent journalists.

"Trump has consistently demonstrated a contempt for the role of the press beyond offering publicity to him and advancing his interests," the group said. "For this reason CPJ is taking the unprecedented step of speaking out now."

"This is not about picking sides in an election," the statement added. "This is recognizing that a Trump presidency represents a threat to press freedom unknown in modern history."

The committee made the point that the United States is cited by journalists in other countries as a model of free expression and journalistic freedom.

A Trump presidency could erode those rights in America and have consequences for journalists in other countries as well, CPJ said.

The resolution listed specific examples of Trump showing "disregard" for the press, including his past denial of press credentials to certain news outlets (a practice he has since stopped) and his refusal to "condemn attacks on journalists by his supporters."

"Throughout his campaign, Trump has routinely made vague proposals to limit basic elements of press and internet freedom," the group said, including by talking about wanting to "open up our libel laws," thereby making it easier to sue news organizations.

(Brian Stelter. “Donald Trump has 'betrayed First Amendment values,' journalism advocates say.” CNN. October 13, 2016.)

Then, after the election in a high-profile meeting at Trump Tower on November 21, President-elect Trump lashed out at several top media executives and their outlets.

The New York Post reported that the meeting was attended by Lester Holt and Chuck Todd of NBC News; George Stephanopoulos, David Muir, and Martha Raddatz of ABC News; Charlie Rose and Gayle King of CBS News; Jeff Zucker and Erin Burnett of CNN; and others from MSNBC and Fox News.

A person with knowledge of the meeting, which the participants agreed not to talk about, told the Post the journalists went in thinking they would discuss "the access they would get to the Trump administration, but instead they got a Trump-style dressing down."

Trump reportedly called the media "dishonest, deceitful liars," and told Zucker he hates CNN, adding that everyone there is a "liar" and Zucker should be "ashamed" of himself. Without naming Katy Tur, Trump brought up an "NBC female correspondent who got it wrong, then he referred to a horrible network correspondent who cried when Hillary [Clinton] lost who hosted a debate — which was Martha Raddatz," the Post's sources recount.

(Chris Sanchez. “DRAMA: Trump reportedly explodes at media bigwigs in off-record meeting.” Business Insider. November 21, 2016.) 

All of this has caused New Yorker editor David Remnick to say, “The fight for press freedom is also quite close to home (than abroad). It’s right here. The advocates for limiting that freedom have made their feelings very well known. And we have all heard the anti-media rhetoric, the attacks on journalists, the exclusion of reporters viewed as unfriendly during the presidential campaign.”
It is very ironic that Donald Trump would call anyone else a “deceitful liar.” He supported the insane birther rumor about President Obama; he claimed the 2016 Presidential Eection was rigged and millions voted illegally; he told a story about thousands of Muslims celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers on rooftops in Jersey City; he claimed President Obama started ISIS; he said he never sexually assaulted women while bragging about grabbing their pussies... on and on.

Alexandra Ellerbeck, research associate in the Committee to Protect Journalists' Americas program, says ...

Politicians have a right to criticize the media, and they cannot be held responsible for the existence of online trolls. But when they incite supporters to insult or threaten journalists, whether intentionally or by accident, the impact on press freedom is real.”
(Alexandra Ellerbeck. “Why Trump's insults of journalists must be taken seriously.” Committee to Protect Journalists. May 18, 2016.)

Countries that allow leaders to launch vicious ad hominem attacks on journalists expose these journalists to unnecessary risks. And, Ellerbeck warns “stirring up antagonism toward the press can be a prelude to introducing restrictive media legislation – all reasons that Trump's behavior warrants close public scrutiny.”

So, now, it is time for journalists to come together as watchdogs of the First Amendment. They are under a direct attack. If Trump truly wants to improve journalism as it relates to facts, opinions, and unbiased reporting, he should encourage the public to be better informed by comparing various sources and researching all views. In my opinion, he lacks the substance and character to promoting open-mindedness. His threats and bluster betray his narrow interests. Too bad this act appeals to so many who stand to lose their fair share of freedom by supporting him.

“The press doesn't stop publishing, by the way, in a fascist escalation; it simply watches what it says. That too can be an incremental process, and the pace at which the free press polices itself depends on how journalists are targeted.”

--Naomi Wolf, American author, journalist and political advisor

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