It’s an odd structure we have in free societies, with a critical component of democracy functioning as an independently-run and -funded entity. The so-called “fourth estate” – the press – is meant to keep a check on the three branches of governmental power. It is that independence that makes it so threatening that, within weeks of taking office, U.S. President Donald Trump called it out as the “enemy of the people.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017
Before Trump picked up on the term Joseph Stalin famously used to send people to their deaths in gulags, he had a more nuanced critique. A week after his inauguration, the U.S. President was interviewed by the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, and he said, “I think the media is the opposition party in many ways.” At first, it sounded almost like a thoughtful analysis of the role of the media, which is precisely as he described it – an entity that holds whomever is in power to account. Ask Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and every other U.S. president going back to George Washington.
To be fair, though, Trump was echoing the words of his then-advisor Steve Bannon, who was suggesting the press is aligned with the Democratic Party, the official opposition in the current political climate. But in signature Trump style, the President cranked the dial further, elaborating that, “the dishonesty, the total deceit and deception makes them certainly partially the opposition party, absolutely.”
In hindsight, those words seem quaint, as the attacks on the media have grown progressively louder since those early days of the Administration, with Trump threatening to weaken libel laws, banning individual journalists and media organizations from press conferences, and even suggesting that the Senate Intelligence Committee investigate media companies that are unfriendly to him.
Trump is certainly not alone in his attacks on the media. Richard Nixon’s administration tried to bring espionage charges against The New York Times over the Pentagon Papers leak. After Adolf Hitler came to power, and began being mocked by German papers, he referred to the media as the “lugenpresse” – the “lying press,” a term that has re-emerged in the crowds at Trump rallies. And journalists in repressive regimes all over the world are routinely arrested and even killed. But the fact that Trump is enthusiastically following in the footsteps of a long list of notorious press-bashers only makes his actions more disturbing.
The independence of “fourth estate” which gives it its power is also what makes it so vulnerable. That’s why hundreds of news organizations have followed the lead of the Boston Globe, issuing editorials today calling out the U.S. President for his increasingly shrill and violent rhetoric against the media.
The Global Reporting Centre is proud to contribute its voice, urging President Donald Trump to stop attacking the media, which is simply doing its job in maintaining our liberty.