Trump vs the media
The crisis in American democracy reached another low after US President Donald Trump escalated his verbal attacks on the American news media. After the media reported an FBI inquiry into White House links with Russia Trump decided to call the media ‘a great danger’ to the US and an ‘enemy of the people’. Major news organisations, including CNN, the New York Times and the BBC, were barred from attending a White House briefing. The only organisations allowed to stay were alt-right organisations and the few in the US media that have refused to criticise the Trump administration for its policies. The sitting US president has pretty much declared a war on the media. This comes as not much of a surprise, given his campaign rhetoric but there is something about his insistence on calling out ‘fake news’ and his White House aides inventing ‘alternative facts’ as a substitute for lies that is telling. What’s more, these attacks on the media have found resonance in the American people. Recent polls have shown that over half of the American public supports the idea that the Trump administration has been unfairly portrayed by the media.
The American public’s willingness to digest such attacks threatens the much celebrated ‘freedom of press’ celebrated in the West. The US has prided itself – rightly or wrongly – as the champion of the press, and the latest onslaught from the White House has left many reeling. From wrongly attributing attacks in Sweden to claims that terrorist attacks are not covered enough in the media, the Trump administration has peddled a narrative of the media, not the government, being the ones deceiving the people. Trump’s underhanded warning of ‘doing something about it’ could in fact become true. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which has rarely if ever talked about press freedom in the US, has expressed fears for what the US president’s rhetoric on media may mean for journalists in the rest of the world. Journalists in Egypt, Turkey, Ethiopia or indeed Pakistan continue to face the toughest conditions. Caught between conflicting sides and often called traitors by their own states, journalists tasked with reporting the truth have been targeted by insecure regimes who prefer to silence dissenting voices. Trump’s actions in a country that has appointed itself as the saviour of democracy around the world could likely embolden insecure regimes even more.