Freedom of the Press

By Penny Smith

Michael Abramowitz, writing for Freedom House’s 2017 review of global press freedom, notes:

Never in the 38 years that Freedom House has been monitoring global press freedom has the United States figured as much in the public debate as in 2016 and the first months of 2017.

Press freedom globally has declined to its lowest levels in 13 years, thanks to new threats to journalists and media outlets in major democracies, and to further crackdowns on independent media in authoritarian countries like Russia and China.

But it is the far-reaching attacks on the news media and their pace in a democratic society by Donald Trump, first as a candidate and now as president of the United States, that fuel predictions of further setbacks in the years to come.

 No U.S. president in recent memory has shown greater contempt for the press than Trump in his first months in office. He has repeatedly ridiculed reporters as dishonest purveyors of “fake news” and corrupt betrayers of national interest. Borrowing a term popularized by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, Trump has labeled the news media as “enemies of the people.” His senior White House adviser described journalists as ”the opposition party.”

Ouch! And that was written in early 2017. On January 8, 2018, the Committee to Protect Journalists awarded Donald Trump the “Overall Achievement in Undermining Global Press Freedom” Award in response to his decision to present forthcoming Trump Fake News trophies..

Brian Tashman of the ACLU has compiled a handy list of Trump’s disdain for part of our First Amendment. Our President has:

  • threatened to change libel laws so publishers and reporters can be sued for “unflattering” statements;
  • told Prime Minister Trudeau that it is “frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write;”
  • proposed ending broadcast licenses of media outlets that criticized him;
  • demanded, through his press secretary, that ESPN fire someone critical of him;
  • tweeted images of hitting a reporter and a reporter being run over by his campaign train;
  • attacked reporters at a news conference with Putin, who epitomizes the suppression of news one sees in dictatorships;
  • asked the FBI director to jail reporters who published classified information;
  • repeatedly tweeted about “fake news;” and
  • tweeted that someone should purchase the NY Times and either “run it correctly” or simply let it die.

For further examples, check out Katy Tur’s book about how she and other reporters were treated on the campaign trail.

Newspapers were the social media of colonial America. They displayed argument and counter-argument for revolution, for the Constitution, for this or that particular policy. The inclusion of a free press in the Bill of Rights is testimony to the importance placed on it by our founders. Although the media is often sensationalist and given to hyperbole, although it sometimes gets things wrong, although “yellow journalism” comes with the media package, its value as a source of information as well as a watchdog should be obvious.

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Some allied quotations:

Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.            Thomas Jefferson

Grant me thirty years of equal division of inheritances and a free press, and I will provide you with a republic.          Alexis de Tocqueville

Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.       Walter Cronkite

A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.          John F. Kennedy

Freedom of the Press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.                  George Orwell

I have great respect for the news and great respect for freedom of the press and all of that.                        Donald Trump

January 11, 2017

Yes, he really said that.

You can’t make this stuff up.