Under the Trump administration, hostility towards journalists and the media in America is at an all-time high. Up to this point, accusations of fake news and bias have mostly rolled off the backs of seasoned journalists, but these attacks have become physical with more serious implications. Violence has become an accepted response to questions about policies and disagreements with local politicians. This aggressive reaction isn’t surprising given the President’s openly antagonistic relationship with the press.
This is a cause for great concern. With the growth in Internet reporting, journalists and news outlets are used to trolling in comment sections and on social media. However, the negative responses now transcend hateful words – people are acting on their anger and distrust. And it inspires mob action. Trump’s direct Twitter attacks and other, more directly inciting slurs, create a sense of normalcy. If the President can behave this way after all, its okay for the rest of us to do the same. Body slams, anyone?
The President’s constant media bashing has become part of White House protocol. Press Secretary Sean Spicer has had numerous outbursts during press briefings, banned cameras and moved reporters to the back of the room for asking questions he didn’t like. In Tuesday’s press briefing this week, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested everyone view a fake video that aims to discredit CNN. Sanders then, without a hint of irony, continued to rant about dishonesty in news media.
The barrage of accusations about the intentions, bias and truthfulness of the media are more than stressful – they threaten the freedom of the press. In the words of U.S Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black: “the press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” The current anti-media climate discourages and prevents the press from keeping the American public properly informed. Only engaging certain news outlets, limiting public broadcasts and holding Senate meetings behind closed doors allows the government to proceed unchecked. Any attempts to silence news sources that question the White House are effectively keeping the American people in the dark.
The Trump administration’s ability to completely silence the press seems unlikely, but what would America be like without news? In June, the Newseum in Washington D.C. held its third annual #WithoutNews media blackout to raise awareness of the threats journalists face around the world. Especially significant this year as it highlighted the importance of legitimate news sources. We have a President fond of his own, unsourced versions of events. Thanks to news outlets fact checking his tweets, the public can see for themselves how misleading and dangerous unchallenged statements can be.
Freedom of the press offers protection but also imparts responsibility; that’s the beauty of the First Amendment. The public deserves to hear the truth so that they can make informed decisions about their votes and the future of the country. Yet journalists are less physically and rhetorically safe than ever. How should they react to the increased hostility? Roll with the (literal) punches or take a stand? The best reaction seems to be a middle ground: continue working for the American people and use the might of the pen to push back against unconstitutional threats.