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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

While people across the United States celebrated Independence Day weekend with barbecues and fireworks, President Donald Trump spent the holiday threatening reporters on Twitter.

Trump tweeted a video of him wrestling and punching a man with the CNN logo superimposed on the man’s face, and used a hashtag to call the news network a “fraud.” The video originated in a GIF format from an anonymous Reddit user who, the Anti-Defamation League says, has “an 18-month record of vile comments and memes against Muslims, African-Americans, Jews and others.” Days earlier, the president had posted several revoltingly sexist tweets about MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski.

Trump’s recent Twitter behavior and the rapidly fading long-held norms for White House relations with the press signal that the president’s two-pronged campaign against an informed public is ramping up. We warned about this the week Trump was sworn into office and it’s truer than ever now: Trump is waging both a war against facts, and a war against those who report them.

Trump has been in office for nearly six months, and his major presidential message to the American public is dangerously clear: Only trust information that comes directly from him or the swath of fringe propaganda outlets that do his bidding.

Trump’s actions are straight out of the authoritarian playbook, and their goal is to denigrate and delegitimize the news media while simultaneously building an alternative media of sycophants. He has been threatening the press since before he took office — and these attacks will only get more intense. We can’t let him get away with making journalists the enemy because someone will get hurt.

On and off Twitter, Trump is elevating his own propagandists as he attempts to delegitimize actualjournalism. Some of these fringe outlets have even ended up in the White House press briefing room (when the briefing room is used at all). Here, too, Trump’s war against facts has taken a more overtly sinister and violent tone. Some of the most sycophantic members of the pro-Trump media have a history of hateful rhetoricand ties to white nationalism, just like the anonymous Redditor Trump borrowed from this weekend.

It’s a sign of the times: Press freedom groups that have detailed threats against the media in other countries for decades are now beginning to document threats against reporters in the United States.

Trump is ramping up his personal attacks against the news media in an obvious effort to discredit its members. At the same time his administration is cutting off press access of legitimate outlets in unprecedented ways.

And Trump needs it to work. His legislative agenda is stalling, his approval ratings are tanking, and several investigations are tightening around him. In the face of these failures, the Trump administration is borrowing from a despotic playbook to push — more forcefully than ever — a set of “alternative facts” about his accomplishments and views.

As Columbia Journalism Review Editor-in-Chief Kyle Pope noted this morning, reporters “aren’t obligated to cede the media agenda to this or any other administration.” While documenting Trump’s frequent (and disturbing) attacks on the press is important, it can be counterproductive when the attention devoted to the president’s temper tantrums completely overwhelms reporting on vitally important policy issues. One way journalists can help fight back is to make sure Trump can’t count on his attacks on the press to drown out coverage of the implications of his policy priorities, like the Republicans’ health care bill.

In the earliest days of the Trump administration, facts were inconvenient. Now, they are the enemy. And if the press doesn’t stand up to these clear attempts at mimicking the media environment of an authoritarian state, facts will soon become indistinguishable from lies. The White House Correspondents’ Association has repeatedly fallen short in its efforts to protect a fiercely independent free press from this president’s attacks. Will its duty to report what’s in the public interest extend to protecting itself, in the same interest, from a devolution into full-blown state-controlled media?

Will the war only end when Trump’s dangerous sycophants occupy the entire press briefing room, or when the briefing room no longer exists? And more importantly, will the casualties be a slew of American institutions that preserve and protect a free press, or something even worse?

Header image photo by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters


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11 responses to “Trump’s War On Press Reflects Authoritarian Aims”

  1. Lynda Groom says:

    Trumps war on the press reflects and makes clear the insecurties within the man. Thin skin is not something to wear as a red badge of courage.

    • Kimberlyabryant says:

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    • FireBaron says:

      Lynda, Teflon Donnie has been at war with the press since at least the 70s. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and even the NY Daily News have been on his case, investigating him and his business practices since he first jumped in front of everyone pretending he was the Muhammad Ali of Real Estate! The only paper that ever cut him a break was the New York Post, and they have less journalistic integrity than the National Enquirer!

  2. jtberger says:

    I have been a faithful watcher of CNN for almost 20 years.
    Clearly, it has become little more than the propaganda wing of the Democratic Party.masquerading as a news organization. This is ok by me, but they should be a bit more honest about their objectives.

    • The same has been said about a notoriously despicable and anti-Christ entity called FOX. There are no redeeming features whatsoever with FOX, no spirituality courses through the “veins” of that satanic institution.
      True, no media outlet today can be described a free of bias, but at least CNN tries to be honest and insightful—no one will ever accuse FOX of being the same.
      So, who do you recommend we turn to. If you want to make change, it has to start with yourself, and then you need to inform your friends and encourage them to make changes in their behavior and expectations, by being a model for what change might look like.

      • jtberger says:

        I only discovered “Fox News” in Oct. of 2016. O’Reilly was one the best i’d ever seen in my whole life. CNN seems consumed by hate of Trump and the fact they lost the election, to the point of total irrationality. Strangely, the one thing i dislike most about Trump–his militarism– is the one thing that both CNN AND FOX support him on.
        there are lots of other News sources….ICH… IHR….Pat Buchanan….Brother Nathanael…etc.

  3. carl watson says:

    As Abraham Lincoln pondered over 160 years ago, should we now consider “[emigrating] … to Russia where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy”

    • jtberger says:

      I also wonder why the entire Western media seems to hate Putin and the Russians. The only guy who makes any sense on that question is Stephen Cohen. The supposition that Putin might invade the Baltics is absurd in the extreme. The vast majority of people in Crimea are Russians and did vote overwhelmingly to go back home to Russia. Anyone believing in the self determination of peoples should be advocating a vote in the oblasts of Donetsk and Lugansk. Clearly, Western Europe has become a model for all of us to admire — a dozen little countries … all happily and productively independent.

      • A bizarre fascination you’ve expressed for Russia and Western Europe. You speak in somewhat glowing terms as if they were parts of the earth set down in place for some mythical Valhalla.

        You also wax rhapsodic, with racialist thematic imagery, with the following trope:

        “Western Europe has become a model for all of us to admire—a dozen little countries … all happily and productively independent.”

        Judging from that image alone, I and others can discern the same germ of thinking that compelled those earlier “Africans” who found their way into what is now called Eurasia. From there, cultural forces, and becoming enamored with changes in skin color and other physical evolutionary features, would give rise to a peculiar form of materialism and later to racialism.

        I find your post intriguing, and a reflection of what bedevils many in America and in Europe—and parts of Russia—who think as you do.

  4. I have to wonder what social forces were dominant in the Drumpf clan’s environment going back several generations or longer. Were the influences of the slowly evolving mental outlook on human society towards autocracy influential in that clan’s way of thinking? Was autocracy so infused in the earlier clans to have found its way through generations, ending up in Donald’s spiritual “genotype”?

  5. “jtberger” offered an interesting, yet disturbing, glimpse into a mentality that characterizes Trump, Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and numerous other Westerners of our Anglo-Saxon brethren who exalt in their perception of a sort of “Exceptionalism”. Paul Ryan and Trump have often described their fascination with rhetoric like “American Exceptionalism”, “America First”, and/or “America Only”. And then there is the tiresome monotonous incantation with some Odin-like barbaric flavor—“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

    It doesn’t take much reflection to see how this exceptionalist mentality keeps the fires of divisiveness and racial superiority burning, and further expands the fissures dividing people in America and dividing the rest of the world.

    “O CHILDREN OF MEN! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.”

    The above epigram, from Baha’u’llah’s ‘The Hidden Words’, offers the key to breaking the stranglehold that demonic personages and ideologies have on humanity the world over.

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