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The UN human rights chief has called President Donald Trump's attacks on press freedom "close to incitement of violence." (Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

As UN Rights Chief Warns Trump's Press Attacks 'Close to Incitement of Violence,' Newspapers Ready Coordinated Response

Trump's anti-media rhetoric could "set in motion a chain of events which could quite easily lead to harm being inflicted on journalists just going about their work."

Julia Conley

Amid international outcry over President Donald Trump's treatment of the news media, more than 100 newspapers are planning to publish editorials this Thursday pushing back against his repeated claims that journalists are "the enemy of the people" and defending their right to cover his administration and actions.

Denouncing Trump's "dirty war on the free press," the Boston Globe wrote to dozens of news outlets across the country calling on them to band together in defense of their work.

"We propose to publish an editorial on August 16 on the dangers of the administration's assault on the press and ask others to commit to publishing their own editorials on the same date," wrote the Globe's editors.

Large newspapers including the Houston Chronicle and the Miami Herald have committed to writing editorials, as well as smaller local outlets.

"Publications, whatever their politics, could make a powerful statement by standing together in the common defense of their profession and the vital role it plays in government for and by the people."          —Boston Globe The campaign comes after repeated attacks by the president on the news media, beginning before he was elected president in November 2016. During his campaign Trump popularized the term "fake news," applying it frequently to CNN and other cable news outlets when their coverage of his campaign was deemed too negative.

Since his inauguration Trump has steadily ramped up his attacks, calling for NBC's license to be revoked after it published a report about his request to increase the nation's nuclear arsenal, and telling his supporters that American journalists are "really bad people." 

In recent weeks tensions between the White House and the press have grown even more pronounced, after Trump applauded the harassment of CNN journalist Jim Acosta at his rally in Tampa, Florida.

When asked about the incident, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed the Trump administration "fully support[s] a free press"—while also refusing to clearly state that the press is not "the enemy of the people " as Trump has said, and suggesting that journalists and their negative coverage of the administration's deeply unpopular policies are to blame for the president's anti-press rhetoric.

Acosta tweeted after the rally that he was concerned the president's escalating war on journalists would result in "someone getting hurt"—an anxiety shared by outgoing United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein.

After Trump's inauguration, Zeid told the Guardian, "we began to see a campaign against the media...that could have potentially, and still can, set in motion a chain of events which could quite easily lead to harm being inflicted on journalists just going about their work and potentially some self-censorship. And in that context, it's getting very close to incitement to violence."

Zeid pointed out that Cambodian leader Hun Sen, among others, has demonstrated that Trump's anti-press rhetoric is catching on around the world. Hun Sen accused Cambodian media outlets of "violating Cambodia's laws" and evading taxes, and commended Trump's "Fake News Awards," which he gave out earlier this year. 

Leaders in Turkey, Myanmar, Venezuela, and the Philippines have also taken to deriding media outlets as "fake news," according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In the U.S., the Globe and other publications are hoping their coordinated editorials will amount to a strong stance against the president's anti-media campaign.

"Publications, whatever their politics, could make a powerful statement by standing together in the common defense of their profession and the vital role it plays in government for and by the people," wrote the Globe's editors. "Our words will differ. But at least we can agree that such attacks are alarming."


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