KARACHI: Former US president Donald Trump has said that if elected to power again, he would not quarrel with the media as it is a waste of time.
Trump, who has branded the media as dishonest, Americans’ enemy and termed reliable media houses as origin of fake news, voiced change of his heart in an interview with the Fox News.
Trump stated that he respects many in the media, and added that those journalists who got it (Russia issue) right ought to be rewarded, but not those who got it wrong. According to media reports during his presidency, the Trump administration had declared war on the American press. It had also declared war on the judiciary, also on the Democratic leadership of Congress, sometimes even on the Republican leadership of Congress. But it is the press, or the media, to use its more fashionable moniker, that is the target of the president’s special fury.
The press, overall, Trump has said, is a “disgrace,…false, horrible, fake reporting.” It is “out of control…fantastic.” Reporters are “very dishonest people,” their coverage he describes as “an outrage.” The New York Times—a “failing” newspaper. CNN—“terrible.” Buzzfeed — “Garbage.”
Then, on top of it all, this presidential tweet, dripping with anger and threat in early 2017: The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!
According to the annual press freedom index produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) which ranks countries based on factors such as media pluralism and independence, the US ranked 45 out of the 180 countries covered.
As of December 2020, a record 274 journalists were behind bars around the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. According to Courtney Radsch, advocacy director of US non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists, Obama’s administration helped pave the way for Trump’s assault on the press. Among other things, Obama repeatedly opposed the release of public information and cracked down on government leaks.
“Obama absolutely laid the groundwork,” says Radsch. “He used the Espionage Act more than all other presidents combined and set a very dangerous precedent of going after journalistic sources.” “But Obama and Bush did not resort to public rhetoric against individual journalists, news outlets and the institution of the media itself,” says Radsch.
One of Trump’s key tactics to exert his power and strengthen his message is repetition. The outgoing leader has repeatedly attacked the press with slurs such as “fake news”, “the enemy of the people” and “dishonest”.
According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, Trump denounced the media from his Twitter account 2,520 times since launching his first presidential election campaign. Among his most popular targets were CNN, which was the primary subject of 251 Twitter attacks, and the New York Times, which was criticised 241 times, according to an analysis of the US Press Freedom Tracker data.
Trump’s vitriol against these outlets goes beyond Twitter – the President sued CNN and the New York Times, along with the Washington Post for libel during his re-election campaign.
Although Trump’s Twitter account has now been suspended, Radsch says it’s going to be extremely difficult to undo Trump’s undermining of truth and trust. “It takes a lifetime to build trust, and it can take a moment to destroy it,” she says.
One of Trump’s most effective rhetorical ploys has been the destruction of press credibility through sustained attacks on the news media at rallies, press events and on Twitter, says Lucy Dalglish, dean of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
“Trump has not only damaged the reputation of professional journalists who are out there working every day to do the right thing and report the truth to the public, he has put them physically in danger,” says Dalglish.
Although, the US Press Freedom Tracker only began collecting data on aggressions against journalists in 2017, its data shows that the situation in 2020 was particularly bad, mostly due to high levels of police brutality towards journalists during the Black Lives Matter protests.
The 900 assaults on the press that were reported during the protests cannot be separated from the wider climate of media hostility in the US, says Radsch. One of Trump’s most effective rhetorical ploys has been the destruction of press credibility through sustained attacks on the news media at rallies, press events and on Twitter, says Lucy Dalglish, dean of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
“There’s no question that the single most damaging thing he has done is to publicly denounce the media, call them fake, call them liars and basically call into question their integrity and their veracity,” says Dalglish. “It has done incalculable damage to the reputation of the media and the willingness of the public to have faith in the professional truth-based media.”
According to polling data from Gallup, while Democrats’ trust in media has grown, faith in the media among Republicans sunk to an all-time low during Trump’s time in office, highlighting the effectiveness of his campaign to discredit the press among his millions of supporters.
In 2020, just 10% of Americans who identify as Republican said they trusted the media a great deal or a fair amount, compared to 73% of Democrat supporters.
Along with using Twitter to attack the media and control information flows, Trump restricted common journalistic sources of information such as the traditional White House daily press briefing.
Our analysis of the number of press briefing reports posted to the official White House website suggests that Obama’s administration held more than 1,100 press briefings during his eight years in office, compared to 300 in four years under Trump.
According to Radsch, sidestepping press briefings was part of his broader strategy to control the information provided to journalists and the public. While almost all forms of aggression against journalists increased in 2020, there was a 12-fold increase in the number of journalists arrested compared to 2019 and an eight-fold rise in those physically attacked.
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