Trump's Press Attacks Decried as "Reminiscent of Authoritarian Government"

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Trump's Press Attacks Decried as "Reminiscent of Authoritarian Government"

'The press freedom predators of the world are watching Trump and taking notes'

White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaking on Saturday to press.  (Photo: AP)

Press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Monday expressed alarm over the Trump administration's lies to and attacks on the media within its first days of existence.

To wit:

  • On Saturday—his first full day in office—he "unleash[ed] a remarkably bitter attack on the news media," as the New York Times wrote. Speaking at the CIA headquarters, he said of the media: "They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth," adding, "I think they're going to pay a big price" for accurately reporting the size of the inauguration crowd. 
  • Also on Saturday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer accused the media "deliberately false reporting" on the crowd size, and said the administration would "hold the press accountable"—comments the ACLU said "ring of McCarthyism."
  • And on Sunday, top Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway, speaking to CNN's Chuck Todd, referred to Spicer's stated falsehoods as "alternative facts."

"It is clear that Trump views the media as his number one enemy and is taking every single opportunity to try to weaken their credibility," said Margaux Ewen, advocacy and communications director for RSF North America, in a press statement. She added: "RSF reminds Trump's administration that the press does not provide public relations for the President, but reports the truth in order to hold government officials accountable, despite statements to the contrary from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer."

"The simultaneous attacks on the press for so called 'inaccurate' reporting and the use of what the administration calls 'alternative facts' to counter this reporting are reminiscent of an authoritarian government's tactics," added Delphine Halgand, director of RSF North America.

What's more, the new administration's approach could catalyze other regimes to follow suit, RSF warned.

"The press freedom predators of the world are watching Trump and taking notes," Halgand continued. "It’s terrifying to think how much more brazen they will be in their attacks on journalists around the world now that the leader of the United States of America is setting a terrible example.”

Already faced with evidence of Trump's disdain for the fourth estate before he took office, an open letter published last week at the Columbia Journalism Review warned the administration of what it should expect from the press corps.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

Penned by CJR editor-in-chief and publisher Kyle Pope, it states:

We’re going to work together. You have tried to divide us and use reporters' deep competitive streaks to cause family fights. Those days are ending. We now recognize that the challenge of covering you requires that we cooperate and help one another whenever possible. So, when you shout down or ignore a reporter at a press conference who has said something you don’t like, you're going to face a unified front. We'll work together on stories when it makes sense, and make sure the world hears when our colleagues write stories of importance. We will, of course, still have disagreements, and even important debates, about ethics or taste or fair comment. But those debates will be ours to begin and end.

In its 2016 World Press Freedom Index, RSF ranked the U.S. 41 out of 180 countries, citing as a main concern the Obama administration's war on whistleblowers such as Jeffery Sterling, whom the organization had urged President Obama to pardon before leaving office.

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