THE PRESS UNDER FIRE: Trump's rhetoric is both a cause and a symptom of the danger to US journalists.

AuthorEllerbeck, Alexandra

In November 2015, a few months after declaring his candidacy for President, Trump mocked a reporter with a disability during a South Carolina rally. Over the next year, the Trump campaign excluded critical media from rallies. He pledged to make it easier to sue for defamation. He threatened Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly after she aired a segment about a Daily Beast report that he had raped his former wife Ivana.

"I almost unleashed my beautiful Twitter account on you, and I still may," Kelly quoted Trump saying in her book, Settle for More. Then he followed through on the threat, tweeting about her sixty-four times during the Republican primary. Kelly reported receiving rape and death threats. During her family vacation in Disney World, she hired a personal security guard.

Trump, a creature of the media he so often maligns, constitutes a unique threat to press freedom in the United States. No previous President has matched him in terms of the sheer quantity of vitriol he spews toward the Fourth Estate. But even as the President has consolidated the worst impulses of government secrecy post-9/11, the main threat to reporters is not one of censorship or imprisonment. This is not a legal assault but an attack on the norms that form the fundamental basis of a free press.

At the Committee to Protect Journalists, the global press freedom nonprofit where I work, we have often seen political leaders around the world use their platforms to threaten or harass the media. We've seen hostile rhetoric morph into censorship and repression in Ecuador, Turkey, and the Philippines. And now we are seeing heightened threats to journalists in the United States.

Over the past eight years, the Committee to Protect Journalists has ramped up efforts to document U.S. press freedom abuses, and launched a new North America program. We have our work cut out.

According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, Trump has bashed the media on Twitter more than 1,450 times since he declared his campaign for President. Since assuming office, the quantity of tweets against the media has declined somewhat, but only because he is tweeting slightly less: They now constitute a greater percentage of his Twitter presence.

In office, Trump has allegedly discussed jailing reporters with his FBI director, revoked CNN journalist Jim Acosta's press credentials after he asked aggressive questions, and repeatedly called the press the "enemy of the people."

Moreover, Trump may have used the regulatory powers of the government to retaliate against media companies. His Department of Justice opposed the merger of Time Warner and AT&T--possibly, as some reporting suggests, because of his animus toward CNN, owned by Time Warner. When Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered in Turkey by the government of Saudi Arabia, Trump helped cover for the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, who experts believed ordered the execution.

The message to dictators has been clear: Press freedom is not an international priority for the United States under Donald Trump.

Yet despite Trumps hostile actions toward the media, there are ample signs of press resilience:

* THERE HAS BEEN NO MASS CHILLING EFFECT ON REPORTING. The Trump Administration seems, if anything, to have galvanized aggressive accountability journalism. Journalists have fact-checked more than 10,000 falsehoods from the President...

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