Threats to America’s Free Press

Posted May 24, 2017 on 9:52 am | In the category Politics, Press, TRUMP, Uncategorized | by Jeff

Democracy Dies in Darkness –Washington Post Motto

Throughout his Presidential campaign Trump attacked the American press with the notable exception of the unofficial Trump Fan Club: Fox News. But from the start it has been clear that Trump wants to keep the American people ignorant of much of what he actually does or has already done. So for example, early in his campaign he refused to provide press credentials to the Washington Post, apparently believing that would stop it from reporting on the shabbiness of his campaign rallies and the incendiary nonsense he used to fire up his dyspeptic voters. In hindsight a big mistake, given Post editor Martin Baron’s history with the Boston Globe, where he took down the Catholic Church in Boston for its history of sex abuse. Baron led that effort in the face of massive resistance by the institutional Church, a powerful player in Massachusetts politics. So, in the face of Trump’s attempt to muffle the Post, it has turned out to be a leader in investigating and reporting on the chaos and corruption that is the Trump White House.

But the battle to maintain respect for a free press in America continues in the face of ongoing charges of “fake news” from Trump, “alternative facts” from his staff, and total fabrications from Fox News and alt-right make-believe news organizations like Breitbart News. There are numerous examples of government attempts – many successful – to move government operations into the dark and those who treasure an open, accountable democracy clearly have enemies in high places. The shameless twisting of truth by Sean Spicer and Kelly Anne Conway have been on view for over four months with Spicer becoming a pathetic joke for Saturday Night Live and Conway quoted as saying she needs to take a shower after dealing with Trump. But while lying for the boss has historically been considered part of the game, other tactics aimed at hiding the truth are more insidious.

 You Want it Dark? I’ll Kill the Flame.— Leonard Cohen

While Cohen was speaking of darker things than managing the news, the quote is an appropriate metaphor for Trump’s approach to the news: keep it in the dark, which they are trying to do in a variety of ways:

  • When Trump met with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the U.S. the American press was left outside while TASS, the official Russian News Agency was welcomed inside. On his current trip to the Middle East Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a press conference for foreign press but forget to invite the American press.
  • Recently, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price appeared at an event in West Virginia and a reporter questioned him on details of the proposed Trumpcare bill. The reporter was blocked by police and then arrested.
  • Also, within the last week a reporter from C Q Roll Call was manhandled by FCC security guards when attempting to direct a question to an FCC Commissioner in a public hearing. The reporter was then thrown out of the room.
  • Trump’s Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, admitted in an interview that Trump is actively considering attempting to change U.S. libel laws, hoping to make it easier to silence the press.
  • Finally, in what is apparently representative of the President’s view of a free press, Trump has suggested that the FBI “should consider putting reporters in prison”, placing himself in the same camp as his new friend Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan. Over the past year+ Erdogan has jailed hundreds of journalists for reporting on Turkey’s human rights abuses as he moves Turkey from a secular democracy toward an Islamic near-theocracy. Not so strange bedfellows after all.

In this environment, it is imperative that the press refuse to back down and that the public support their efforts. There are plenty of examples of solid journalism that do not rely on daily attendance at the White House press briefings, where reporters are frequently treated as possible tools of the administration. In fact, the best journalism rarely comes out of the White House press briefings but rather from sources developed through hard work and asking the right questions to the right people. Democracy needs a hard working press that seeks the truth, verifies information from sources, builds a case and then informs the public of what the administration does – not what it says. And this is true for all administrations, not just the current one.

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