A free press can be good or bad, but, most certainly, without freedom it will never be anything but bad. . . .
— Albert Camus, Resistance, Rebellion, and Death
A number of readers have written me asking me to explain why those particular leaders were selected by DJT to be among the first heads of state to be invited to the DJT White House, when so many others were hoping for invitations. The invitees whose invitations prompt the question, are Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte. Each of the visitors would seem at first blush to have more in common with each other than, the casual observer would at least hope, with DJT. The similarities between the three leaders are palpable. ,
President el-Sisi became president of Egypt by means of a coup, after citizens in Egypt had voted for Mohamad Morsey to be their president in a 2012 election. On July 3, 2013, President Morsey and his closest advisors were arrested on orders from General el-Sisi and General el-Sisi has been Egypt’s president ever since. Mr. el-Sisi’s method of acceding to power cannot have been the reason he was invited to the White House since DJT got there through an honest election process (except insofar as Russia might have meddled a tiny bit as hinted at by fake news.)
President Erdogan proposed an amendment to Turkey’s constitution that was approved by a slim majority in an election in mid-April. That amendment virtually guarantees that the winner of the 2019 presidential election, who will almost certainly be President Erdogan, will have full control of the government. Since the election, President Erdogan has fired 4,000 public officials. Those are in addition to the 50,000 who were removed by him immediately after an attempted coup that took place in July 2016.
President Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines in an election in May 2016, winning by an overwhelming majority. Since becoming president he has sponsored an anti-drug campaign in which more than 6,000 suspected drug dealers or users have been killed. More than 2000 have died in police operations and 4,000 have been killed in vigilante or extra-judicial operations. After he was elected President, President Duterte said he would have the drug problem in the Philippines cleaned up in 6 months, but in an interview in January, 2017, he said the problem was more difficult than he had anticipated and it would take longer than he had hoped.
From the foregoing it is obvious that none of the actions taken by the three visitors to the White House would explain why DJT invited them to the White House. What inspired the invitations (and President Duterte has not yet accepted his), was DJT’s appreciation of the attitudes towards the free press that the three presidents have. They mirror, to a remarkable degree, DJT’s own feelings.
In rally in Pennsylvania, on April 29th, DJT enthusiastically repeated his condemnation of the press, referring to the “failing New York Times” and saying that CNBC and CNN were incompetent and dishonest. He said: “If the media’s job is to be honest and tell the truth, the media deserves a very, very big fat failing grade” and described reporters as “very dishonest people.” Each of his visitors has expressed remarkably similar sentiments.
A law in Egypt passed in December 2016 with President Sisi’s support, creates a council that will be headed by people appointed by the president. It will oversee the media and insure that the media comply with “national security” requirements. The council is to investigate media funding and is empowered to fine or revoke permits of media groups that threaten “national security.” In early December 2016, an al Jazeera journalist was arrested on suspicion of fabricating news, a sort of “fake news” scenario similar to the fake news DJT sees lurking around every newsstand. The Committee to Protect Journalists has described Egypt as a “leading jailer of journalists.”
Like DJT and President al-Sisi, President Erdogan has little use for the press. Since the coup attempt in 2016, President Erdogan has jailed more than 144 journalists and taken control of, or closed, more than 150 media companies. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey has surpassed China as the world’ biggest jailer of journalists.
President Duterte is troubled by a free press. March 30, 2017, he said that The Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN had hired “shameless” journalists. He said the entities were “garbage” and used a variety of expletives to describe them. He has said they “slant” stories. The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines said: “The virulence and viciousness of his [Duterte’s]language are an abuse of power, a stain on the freedom of our public forum.”
The foregoing is a sort of good news-bad news scenario. The good news is that DJT did not invite his new found friends to the White House because he approves of how they govern their respective countries. The bad news is he shares their opinions of the press. Guardians of press freedom in the United States may want to keep, for future reference, the responses of the media watchdogs, to the actions against the press taken by DJT’s new found friends. We can all hope they will never be needed.