Trump suggestions undermine free press


By Duke Staff

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We started a news article in this exact same fashion a few weeks back, to introduce our coverage of Duquesne’s First Amendment Conference. As journalists, we value the First Amendment to the highest degree, of course, as it allows for us to operate in the realm of the free press.

We have written countless times about President Trump’s negative view of the media, and the danger his rhetoric poses to the safety of journalists and the pillar of free press that we hold dear. However, his latest outcry against the media has the alarm bells ringing much louder than usual.

“While CNN doesn’t do great in the United States based on ratings, outside of the U.S. they have very little competition. Throughout the world, CNN has a powerful voice portraying the United States in an unfair and false way,” Trump tweeted on Nov. 26. “Something has to be done, including the possibility of the United States starting our own Worldwide Network to show the World the way we really are, GREAT!”

To translate: the president is proposing a state run media network to combat what he views as “unfavorable coverage” of his administration and policy agenda. Fox News isn’t enough to satisfy him, apparently.

Just to list some of the countries that do something similar: North Korea, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia just to name a few. According to the Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Press Freedom Index, which ranks 180 countries based on how they treat press, these countries earned scores such as 180, 176, 164, 169 and 148, respectively. So, clearly we’d be in good company!

Worldwide, violence against journalists is growing. The Committee to Protect Journalists has counted 47 murders of journalists in 2018. The environment is not getting safer, and the encouragement of authoritarianism will only make it more dangerous.

The president’s support for authoritarian control of the media is a dangerous shattering of norms that will open a Pandora’s box to the worst of America’s demons. Future politicians will follow in his example. Democracies like Hungary and Turkey have moved to dictatorships after the government transformed the countries’ media into their playthings.

The creation of a state-run government propaganda outlet is very possible in a world where Americans readily eat up fictional news from a variety of cable and online outlets. It may be here before we know it.

A free American press has been critical in advocating for the disadvantaged and the everyday person – from reforming the mental health system and meat-packing industries in the early 1900s to Watergate in the 1970s to exposing the child separation policies in 2018.

A free and protected media environment is something our republic cannot survive without.

Pay attention. Protect it.