The President’s Anti-Press Rhetoric Is Irresponsible

Reuters/ Carlos Barria

Lindsay Marchello Associate Editor, Carolina Journal
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A poll released on Aug. 7, 43 percent of Republicans agreed that the president should be able to close down news outlets that engage in “bad behavior.”

The poll, conducted by Ipsos, a market research company, shows the press has few friends on the right. Of self-identified Republicans, 48 percent also agreed with President Donald Trump that the media are the “enemy of the people.

Trump has since double-downed on his vilification of the media, even as his allies, including his daughter Ivanka Trump, have disagreed with him publically. The president is unlikely to tone down his criticisms of the press as they appear to play well with his base, if the Ipsos poll is any indication.

But it shouldn’t. Calling the press the enemy of the people should be cause for concern, even among Trump’s most ardent fan base. Scott Simon, writing in NPR, summarized the situation succinctly in an Aug. 4 op-ed.

“If the president had called reporters nosy, cranky, contentious, or smart-alecky, many reporters would have laughed and agreed,” Simon wrote. “But calling them — us — enemies of the people is the kind of curse made by tyrants.”

The United States should act as an example of press freedom, but instead, the country has been slowly slipping away from that ideal. It’s evident not only in Trump’s constant denouncement against the media but also in his proposed solutions to curb “fake news.”

Trump has proposed loosening up libel laws and even suggested that media stations should have their television licenses revoked for “fake” coverage. Even more disturbing than Trump’s threats against the media is the way his supporters embrace the anti-press vitriol with fervent passion. On Aug. 1, CNN shared video of a Trump rally in Tampa, Florida, where the crowd hurled insults at the press.

“I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt,” CNN reporter Jim Acosta tweeted.

The press isn’t the enemy of the people but few Americans view them as friends worthy of trust.

Pew Research found in May 2017 that trust in the media is low across the entire political spectrum. Thirty-four percent of Democrats trust national news organizations, compared to 15 percent of Independents. A dismal 11 percent of Republicans trust them.

This decline in faith is a long time coming. A Gallup report shows that trust in media has been steadily declining since 1997 from 53 percent to 32 percent in 2016. Since 2005, the percentage of respondents who have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media hasn’t risen above 50 percent.

The president isn’t the sole cause of this anger and distrust, but he has stoked the flames with his characterization of the press as not just careless in their reporting but deliberately devious.

Journalists are not removed from criticism, but what has been on display at Trump rallies is no simple critique of an imperfect industry. Shoddy reporting should be called out for its sloppiness and mistakes corrected as soon as possible. But the anti-media mob doesn’t seem interested in constructive criticism. They often turn to insults and even threats to signal their displeasure.

In 2016, a man was photographed wearing a controversial shirt at a Trump rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The shirt read “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.”

A shirt supporting the lynching of journalists is certainly in poor taste, but its existence alone is not enough to sound the alarm on press freedom in the United States. But the shirt, taken into context with the president’s vilification of journalists and low levels of public trust in the media, spell trouble for the freedoms enjoyed by the American press.

Journalists in the United States still enjoy immense press freedom denied to their colleagues across the globe. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit that advocates for global press freedom, reported that at least 34 journalists have been murdered in 2018. Although most of these killings happened in countries without a free press like Mexico and Afghanistan, the United States saw its share of the violence. The Capital Gazette shooting on June 29 saw five of the Annapolis newspaper’s staff murdered by a local man with a grudge against the paper.

Any suggestions that the president’s nasty rhetoric against the press was responsible for the shooting are baseless, but the Capital Gazette shooting is important to remember when painting the media as the “enemy of the people.” The shooter viewed the press as his enemy too and he took that belief to the extreme. He punished the journalists for reporting on his harassment of a woman. He punished them for doing their job.

Trump didn’t sanction the attack and his supporters aren’t responsible either, but in the aftermath of this tragedy, the animosity against the press looks even more sinister. The president should choose his words carefully when lobbing criticisms. Labeling journalists as the enemy of the people paints a target on their backs.

Lindsay Marchello is a Young Voices Advocate and an Associate Editor with the Carolina Journal. Follow her on Twitter.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.