Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been rife with insults and attacks. His targets have included women, minorities, veterans, and anyone who dared to criticize him. However, no object of his scorn has been been more aggressively attacked than the media. Trump calls them dummies, losers, scum, and sleazy, and “jokes” about killing them. He revokes the press credentials of people or organizations he doesn’t like, including the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, Fusion, Univision, and more. For a couple of hours he even boycotted Fox News.
The overt hostility that Trump displays for the Fourth Estate is unprecedented for someone seeking the presidency. And his tendencies toward authoritarian suppression of free speech hasn’t escaped the press he so fervently despises. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now recently interviewed two Pulitzer Prize winning journalists on this subject (video below). Their anxieties at the thought of a President Trump are worthy of the attention of all Americans.
David Barstow of The New York Times, and David Cay Johnston of The Daily Beast, and author of the book “The Making of Donald Trump,” had much to say about Trump’s aversion to freedom of the press. Here are a few excerpts:
Barstow: The letter that [Trump’s lawyers] sent to us before we published took the position that unless we had the specific blessing and permission of Donald Trump to write a story about his tax returns, we would be in violation of the law.
That, of course, is false. A journalist doesn’t require the permission (much less the blessing) of a public figure to publish a story.
Johnston: [Trump] called me at home on April 27th to threaten to sue me. Some of the freelance articles that I have written were lawyered way beyond all reason, out of fear. And I’ve had two news organizations say, “We can’t report that, because we’re afraid that Donald Trump will sue us.”
This is an example of the sort of intimidation that often causes editors to self-censor their reporting.
Johnston: If he gets elected, he will have the power of federal law enforcement. I’m not worried if he threatens to sue me, as he has, if he loses. But if he wins, he could put you and I and [New York Times editor] Dean Baquet on no-fly lists. And the courts have been very reluctant to let people off those, if the government claims national security. He can do all sorts of things to mess up your life. And he’s made it clear he will do this. He talks as if the president is a dictator with unlimited power, who doesn’t need to pay attention to Congress or to the courts. […] That’s what these threats of litigation should really concern the voters about.
Trump and his legal henchmen have already made the sort of threats described above. In one particularly chilling incident his lawyer, Michael Cohen, warned a reporter not to publish a story on Trump or he was “going to mess your life up.” Continuing the tirade he ranted “I’m warning you. Tread very f*cking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f*cking disgusting. You understand me?”
Barstow: I think that anyone who cares about an independent free press should be paying closer attention to these kinds of threats, simply because they’re not normal.
Ya think? And these final two statements summarize the gravity of the threat that Trump poses, as envisioned by two esteemed and courageous reporters:
Barstow: I think that Mr. Trump, especially given the positions he’s staked out over the course of this campaign and his whole lifetime, would represent a really significant threat to the tradition of an independent free press in the United States.
Johnston: I think Donald Trump represents a clear and present danger to the liberties of the people, to the idea of the First Amendment. By his own words, he’s made it very clear, if he were president, he would do everything he could to suppress any speech that he doesn’t agree with or he sees as damaging to what he’s doing.
Trump has already had a noticeable effect on the public’s opinion of the media. A recent poll by Gallup shows that trust in the media has sunk to historic lows. According to Gallup this was largely driven by “Trump’s sharp criticisms of the press.” This despite the fact that Trump has had uncommonly positive coverage throughout the campaign. A study from Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media provided the confirming data.
Nevertheless, Trump responds to coverage that is less than adoring by reverting to the tactics of a wannabe dictator. He even promised that, as president, he would “open up our libel laws” governing the media so that he “can sue them and win lots of money.”
Now that may not be the sort of project on which a president ought to be spending his precious time. However, it’s precisely what one would expect from Donald Trump. It combines his compulsion for vengeance against his perceived enemies with an opportunity to further enrich himself. It’s a win/win for Trump, but a lose/lose for America.
How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.
UPDATE: The Committee to Protect Journalists issued an “unprecedented” statement declaring Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump “a threat to press freedom unknown in modern history.”