The War on the Free Press: Why Trump’s “Fake News” rhetoric has to stop, and now!

President Donald Trump enjoys the simple things in life, KFC, a good haircut and attacking the media at any opportunity. To begin with, these outbursts seemed to be the musings of a deranged man who was hopelessly out of his depth running for, then being, President of the United States. Now, however, these unhinged ramblings have become key to Trump’s rhetoric, sowing the seeds of doubt about the trustworthiness of the media into the minds of his supporters, and creating a hostile environment in a country that’s supposedly proud of its “free press”.

At a rally in Wisconsin on Wednesday night, President Trump addressed the media and told them “to stop the endless hostility” in response to the suspected explosive devices that were posted to high-profile Democratic and liberal figures in the US such as former President Barack Obama, the Clintons and CNN. This statement is excessively hypocritical, even by the President’s standards, as its Trump that is openly and aggressively stoking the flames of hostility that surround the US media today. The media are reporting on events, which is their job. They are not writing articles proclaiming that people must be hostile to one another, arguably its Trump’s actions that do that.

During his rally, the comments made by Trump seemed to ignore the countless times he has attacked the media and his political opponents. He wants the media to stop “the constant negative and oftentimes false attacks and stories”, but ironically this is something Trump likes to do in his speeches. What’s even more perplexing is that Trump asked for more civility stating that “those engaged in the political arena must stop treating political opponents as being morally defective. No one should carelessly compare political opponents to historic villains, which is done often”. This statement could easily be aimed at him, yet I feel Trump either doesn’t care how hypocritical he is being, or doesn’t know that he’s engaged in the ‘political arena’. It’s common at Trump rallies to hear his supporters chant “lock her up”, in regards to Hilary Clinton and Trump’s famous claim that he would imprison her if he became President. So much for not treating political opponents as being morally defective!

The suspected explosive devices were clearly intended for high-profile critics of Trump’s Presidency, and points to the damaging effect the President’s rhetoric has had on some members of the American public. These people are regularly criticised by conservatives, The Donald and far-right commentators, showing that whoever sent the packages has been influenced by these prominent figures. Jeff Zucker, worldwide president of CNN, criticised Trump and the White House Press Secretary for their careless and misunderstood belief that what they are saying didn’t matter. Trump often attacks the media, with his stance reiterated by Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, creating an environment of hostility for members of the media at the White House. For example, a tweet from the President on 17th February 2017 said this: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”. If that isn’t inflammatory then I don’t know what is!

It has been claimed by conservative sources that the devices are in fact dummies sent by the Democrats in order to improve their chances in the upcoming mid-term elections. This far-fetched conspiracy theory has little to no evidence and seems to be conservatives’ clutching at straws as the suspect is potentially a conservative voter. Rather than coming up with baseless theories it may be more pertinent for Republicans and conservatives to condemn the potential bombings and focus on the elections.

These attempted attacks have occurred a week after President Trump praised a Republican Congressman for assaulting a journalist by body slamming him. This open vindication of violence towards members of the media is adding to the hostile environment around free speech and the press created by Trump. The constant attacks by the President have raised concern from UN experts who believe that Trump’s remarks undermine the freedom of the press and could lead to more acts of violence against the media.

It’s worrying times when the freedom of the press in one of the largest democracies on the planet is under threat and from the “leader of the free world” no less. Without the media questioning, critiquing and reporting on the government and their actions, the people will be uninformed and can easily be manipulated. Extreme examples of this can be seen in autocracies across the globe, from Russia and China, to North Korea. The governments of these countries closely control, and limit, what’s reported in the media, so much so that the public can also be prone to be believing falsehoods told to them by their respective governments. Let’s not forget the recent murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was an open critic of the Saudi Arabian leadership, with his murder silencing his negative reporting on the Saudi King and the crown prince in particular. This sort of activity is not new to Saudi Arabia, yet the case of Mr Khashoggi’s murder has been the most publicised.

The Thing Is, as President of the United States, Trump should understand that what he says matters, although sadly I feel he never will. If he preaches that attacking journalists is a good thing, someone will see this as justification to go and attack a reporter or send a bomb to a newspaper. A President needs to uphold and protect the constitution, the first amendment of which is about protecting the freedom of Religion, Speech, and the Press. Trump must learn this, and understand that his attacks on his self-proclaimed “fake news media” undermine what is his duty to protect. He has to at least try to forgo his ego, ignore the criticisms of the press and to do his job of running the United States of America. Being criticised is the bread and butter of life as a politician. Attacking the media is, in essence, a distraction technique. It worked well during his presidential campaign as it took focus away from his many offences, but it doesn’t work now that he’s president. He sounds paranoid and unhinged.  If Trump stops that he may, just may, be a more effective and focused President.

 

 

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