A clear and present danger: Trump’s control of the press

Cross-posted from the original Wednesday January 25th post at skyislandscriber.com.

Scriber is on vacation through Thursday. Unfortunately he cannot escape the news. It’s one holy s#!t moment after another.

I have come to believe that, amidst all the turmoil and disorder being created by Daffy Donald, the most immediate threat to our democracy is that poised by Trump’s war with the press. The single most potent thing authoritarian regimes do is to seek and obtain control of information and that means controlling the press.

We already know – or should know – that Trump is actively seeking to destroy the credibility of the independent, free press. If you have doubts, check out the now notorious rant by Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, reported among other sources by the Washington Post and spoofed by Andy Borowitz in the New Yorker. Listening now (Wednesday, Jan 25) to Good Morning America, Trump doubles down on his false claims about winning the election because of voter fraud. Basically he is telling the big lie and Spicer goes before the White House press corps and claims to have evidence. But the only evidence cited is what Trump believes.

Robert Reich identifies Trump’s Two-Step Strategy To Take Over the Truth.

Donald Trump is such a consummate liar that in coming days and years our democracy will depend more than ever on the independent press – finding the truth, reporting it, and holding Trump accountable for his lies.

But Trump’s strategy is to denigrate and disparage the press in the public’s mind – seeking to convince the public that the press is engaged in a conspiracy against him. And he wants to use his tweets, rallies, and videos to make himself the only credible source of public information about what is happening and what he’s doing.

It is the two-step strategy of despots. And it’s already started. It was officially launched the first full day of the Trump administration.

Step 1: Disparage the press and lie about them.
Step 2: Threaten to circumvent the press and take the “truth” directly to the people.

Reich concludes: “Trump and his advisors – Steven Bannon, formerly of “Breitbart News” as well as Spicer and others – understand that if a significant portion of the public trusts Trump’s own words more than they do the media’s, Trump can get away with saying – and doing – whatever he wants. When that happens, our democracy ends. ”

Check out Reich’s post for the evidence for each of his two steps.

What protections can the press invoke in defense against the dark arts of Trumpian dishonesty and disparagement? Apparently damn few according to the authors of this op-ed in the NY Times, Don’t Expect the First Amendment to Protect the Media. (RonNell Andersen Jones is a law professor at the University of Utah. Sonja R. West is a law professor at the University of Georgia.) Here are snippets.

When President Trump declared on Saturday that reporters are “among the most dishonest human beings on earth,” it was not the first time he had disparaged the press. Nor was it out of character when, later that same day, his press secretary threatened “to hold the press accountable” for reporting truthful information that was unflattering to Mr. Trump. Episodes like these have become all too common in recent weeks. So it’s comforting to know that the Constitution serves as a reliable stronghold against Mr. Trump’s assault on the press.

Except that it doesn’t. The truth is, legal protections for press freedom are far feebler than you may think. Even more worrisome, they have been weakening in recent years.

It is primarily customs and traditions, not laws, that guarantee that members of the White House press corps have access to the workings of the executive branch. Consider the Department of Justice’s policy of forcing reporters to reveal confidential sources only as a last, rather than a first, resort. Journalists have no recognized constitutional nor even federal statutory right for such protection. It’s merely custom.

This is why we should be alarmed when Mr. Trump, defying tradition, vilifies media institutions, attacks reporters by name and refuses to take questions from those whose coverage he dislikes. Or when he decides not to let reporters travel with him on his plane, or fails to inform them when he goes out in public. Or when he suggests he might evict the White House press corps from the West Wing and have his administration, rather than the White House Correspondents Association, determine who gets allowed to attend briefings.

We cannot simply sit back and expect that the First Amendment will rush in to preserve the press, and with it our right to know. Like so much of our democracy, the freedom of the press is only as strong as we, the public, demand it to be.

By all means march. March for civil rights. March against bigotry. March for health care. But don’t forget to march in defense of a pillar of our democracy – the freedom of the press. The freedom to ask questions of our elected officials and their responsibility to provide truthful answers. Your freedom rests on it.

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