On Feb. 17, President Trump sent out a tweet asserting that the “fake” news media — which, according to him, includes The New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS and CNN — is “the enemy of the American people.”
This is deeply troubling to me for several reasons.
First, it’s perfectly fine for our elected leaders to hold members of the media accountable for their reporting. In fact, I think it’s important for them to call out bias in news coverage and reporting.
It keeps the system working the way it should.
But that’s a two-way street, and it’s one that Trump doesn’t seem to understand.
It’s the job of the media to hold him accountable for his actions, too.
He seems to equate the media accurately reporting his actions and quoting him with the media attacking him.
It feels unnecessary to point this out, but those two things are not the same. They are, in fact, quite different from each other. Honest reporting is not an attack on anyone.
Additionally, this is worrisome because Trump has been gradually building up his attack on the media.
Do not forget, during the primaries Trump promised to “open up” the libel laws so it would be easier to sue news outlets.
More recently, he’s referred to the media as “the opposition party,” and called it “the enemy of the American people”. This is entirely different territory, more dangerous than we have seen before.
Perhaps Carl Bernstein — you know, the journalist who exposed one of the biggest political scandals ever, Watergate, during the Nixon administration — put it best when he said in response to Trump’s tweet, “Donald Trump is demonstrating an authoritarian attitude and inclination that shows no understanding of the role of the free press.”
In framing the media not only as his personal enemy but as the enemy of the entire country, Trump is attempting to delegitimize all possible criticism of him and the actions of his administration. Many people I know have simply begun to discount anything Trump says via Twitter.
I think this is a dangerous attitude to adopt. Obviously, public figures often have staffers manning their social media accounts, but I think it’s safe for us to assume that most ideas being espoused in his tweets are his, pure and unfiltered.
I believe that his tweets are emblematic of everything we should be fearful of: his temper, his ego and, as Bernstein pointed out, the authoritarian impulse that manifests itself in him when those first two things are not totally satisfied.
Lastly, we should be disheartened that our president — the person who should champion the ideals upon which our country was founded — is vigorously attempting to discredit the press.
Freedom of the press is just one of the institutions that has allowed our country to expand and flourish in the way that it has. That’s something we need to protect — not attack.
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