August 16, 2018, was not a good day for President Trump.
It did not take the president long after taking office to label the American press “the enemy of the people.”
The Brookings Institution Press wrote that “Stalin, Hitler, and Mao had all denounced their critics, especially the press, as ‘enemies of the people.’ Their goal was to delegitimize the work of the press as ‘fake news’ and create confusion in the public mind about what’s real and what isn’t; what can be trusted and what can’t be.” Brookings strongly implied that Trump is doing the same.
What makes matters worse is that almost 50 percent of Republicans say that the president should have the power to “close news outlets engaged in bad behavior” according to an August survey by the Ipsos polling firm. “Bad behavior,” in this case, means criticizing the president, his administration, and his actions.
On August 16, over 200 newspapers around the country followed the lead of the Boston Global and wrote editorials condemning the president maligning the press.
Presidential administrations have always had problems with the American press. Adams instituted the Alien and Seditions Act of 1798. During the 1800 elections, partisan newspapers were the rule rather than the exception of the day. Woodrow Wilson instituted the Sedition Act in 1918. President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew blamed the press for the protests against the war in Vietnam and for their eventual demise. Bill Clinton had a problem with the press during his presidency. But none to the extent of President Trump’s villainizing of the press in an escalating war of words.
Now Trump has taken the baton inciting his more ardent supporters to take actions in their own hands.
On August 16, the Katherine Reed, the Missourian’s public safety and health care editor and associate professor in the School of Journalism, wrote a column stating how the effects of Trump’s lambasting of the press has become a local issue. Reed wrote that one of the student journalists was spat upon and yelled at as she covered the August 7 elections.
Reed continued: “It wasn’t the first time a student journalist had encountered intense hostility while on assignment. But it was a marked escalation.”
Kathy Kiely, the Lee Hills Chair in Free Press Studies at the Missouri School of Journalism, wrote that journalists “are not without bias, but we train to open our minds to points of view we haven’t considered; we are not always as fair or wise or omniscient as we’d like to be, but we do try every day to give people the information they need to make intelligent decisions about their lives and their community.”
On August 16, the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution stating that the press is not the “enemy of the people.” Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) reminded us of the words of Thomas Jefferson who wrote: “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
Trump’s anger of those criticizing him has also boiled over to former and current government officials beginning with the firing of FBI Director James Comey. More recently the revoking of the former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance for stating that he sees the president’s actions as a “threat to national security.”
On August 16, a dozen former CIA officials signed a memo to President Trump stating that the action was “ill-considered.” They continued:
“As individuals who have cherished and helped preserve the right of Americans to free speech – even when that right has been used to criticize us – (the revocation of Brennan’s security clearance) is inappropriate and deeply regrettable. Decisions on security clearances should be based on national security concerns, not political views.”
In an August 16 opinion piece in the Washington Post, retired Admiral William McRaven wrote the president an open letter stating that his own security clearance should be revoked in solidarity with Brennan. McRaven oversaw the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound that killed the leader of al-Qaeda.
As more former and current government officials criticize the president and his action, we will see continued actions being taken by Trump. We will see the Office of the President deteriorate as we saw with the Nixon administration.
Brookings concluded that, unfortunately, there is no Edward R. Murrow today in journalism to challenge the president. Murrow said in a 1954 commentary “that we cannot confuse dissent for disloyalty… We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.” That may be the role men and women, like Brennan, who have “no fear” will take in the near future.