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Why the Trump Administration’s Attacks on the Press is the Real ‘Enemy of the People’


“FAKE NEWS”; “Enemies of the people”. President Trump’s favourite rhetorics against the members of the press who dare to publish “critical but accurate stories about him.”[1]. This is extremely dangerous. It is not that ‘fake news’ does not exist, but the fact that legitimate and acclaimed press sources, such as The New York Times, are being delegitimised to serve President Trump’s political campaign. In short, the principals of the first amendment enshrining press freedom are under threat, if not in the eyes of the law, of 42.8%[2] of the American population.


Freedom of the press is fundamental; it is enshrined in the constitution. The importance of the ordinary person being informed of events in or outside of government cannot be overstated- as citizens, we would have no knowledge of current affairs, and as such, have no opportunities to protest decisions, demand votes or protect our rights. It also acts as an import check on the power of government. One must only look to the motto of The Washington Post ‘Democracy dies in darkness.’ to see that by delegitimising the press and controlling the narrative his supporters see, Trump is keeping them in the metaphoric darkness, attacking all allegations that he interfered in the democratic process. Trump’s attacks are becoming more prominent and perhaps more serious, his refusal to answer questions from organisations such as CNN and recently his removal of Jim Acosta’s press pass exemplifies that his attacks are gaining momentum and popular support from his base (91% of Trumps ‘self-identifying “strong supporters” say they trust Trump for accurate information compared to just 11% who say they trust the mainstream media’)[3]. This adheres to a dangerous precedent of leaders who will restrict human rights of their population in an almost draconian manner.


What is perhaps the most frightening about the Trump administration is that they not only discredit accurate reports issued by the mainstream media, they have on multiple occasions promoted fake news. In the fall out after Jim Acosta had his press pass revoked, Trump’s press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to justify the decision by tweeting a doctored video of Jim Acosta interacting with a female White House intern. The video was sped up in one section to portray him as swiftly chopping the interns arm down. Furthermore the video was edited to not include Acosta’s stating “Pardon me, ma’am” as she attempted to grab his microphone[4]. The tweet was viewed by 12.6 million people, retweeted by 31, 900 people and liked by a further 101,000 people. Similarly, Kelly Anne Conway’s infamous “alternative facts” defence came after she referred to the “bowling green massacre” a supposed terrorist attack that never happened when attacking press coverage .


President Trump himself has on numerous occasions appeared to fabricate lies whilst promoting his political stance. For example, a tweet regarding a terror attack in Sweden earlier this year to support his agenda regarding immigration baffled Sweden, as no terror attack had happened. Additionally, in response to the California wildfires that killed 96 people, he stated that poor forest management was to blame, not global warming: “I was with the President of Finland … he called it a forest nation and they spent a lot of time on ranking and cleaning and cleaning and doing things they don’t have any problem.” This statement was swiftly rebuked and ridiculed by the population of Finland. The Washington Post reported in August that President Trump has made “4,229 false or misleading claims in 558 days”[5] These examples appear laughable until you refer back to the figures that I quoted earlier; 91% of Trump’s “strong supporters” say they trust Trump and his administration for accurate information, rather than the mainstream media.



What is concerning with regards to Trump’s attacks on the press is the fact that unlike in the Nixon era the Supreme Court has a conservative majority, thus if the mainstream media ended up at the Supreme Court having been discredited and prevented from publishing by president Trump, it is questioned whether the result would be the same. Nevertheless, it should be considered that often judges consider the importance of the constitution above the influence of the president.


Attacking the press is not without historical precedent. Stalin, Hitler, Kim Jong-un have previously implemented such strategies to maintain their position. Trump’s attacks on the press are not unprecedented in American history, similar rhetoric’s were repeated by the Nixon administration. Nixon’s highly publicised attempts to silence the press cumulated in Supreme Court decisions siding 6:3 with the press under the guarantees of the first amendment[6]. Trump’s rallying cry of “enemy of the people” has previously been used in Nazi propaganda and by totalitarian dictators including Stalin and Chairman Mao[7]. In his secret address to the communist parties’ inner circle, Khrushchev stated, “Stalin originated the concept ‘enemy of the people’. This term automatically made it unnecessary that the ideological errors of a man be proven.” The same could be argued of Trump, the more he discredits the media, the less his supporters question his statements, even those which are evidently fabricated. President Trump understands the connotations of such language- he is implementing the same techniques which have worked throughout history to increase his power.

It must be noted however, Trump should not be making an enemy out of the press- ask Richard Nixon whose conflict with the press could be argued to have triggered his political demise. Even Trump’s beloved Fox News sided with CNN, signing onto the lawsuit against the White House with regards to the revocation of Jim Acosta’s press pass.


To conclude, the ‘enemy of the people’ is not the press- Trump’s discrediting of the free press serves to undermine the democratic society in which we live, to the unbeknownst detriment of his followers.



Anna Noble

Human Rights Section Feature Writer

31 December 2018


 

[1] L. Downie, Jr. ‘Donald Trump’s dangerous attacks on the press.’ The New York Times. 13th June 2007.


[2] N. Silver. ‘How (un)popular is Donald Trump? FiveThirtyEight. 19th November 2018, 6:49pm.


[3] J. Proskow. ‘ANALYSIS: Trump supporters trust him more than their own eyes and ears.’ Global News. 31st July 2018. 11: 14


[4] D. Harwell. ‘White House shares doctored video to support punishment of journalist Jim Acosta.’ The Washington Post.


[5] G. Kessler, S. Rizzo, M. Kelly. ‘President Trump has made 4,229 false or misleading claims in 558 days.’ The Washington Post. 1st August 2018.


[6] The New York Times Co. v United States. 403 U.S. 713 (1971)


[7] E. Graham-Harrison. ‘ ‘Enemy of the people’: Trump’s phrase and its echoes of totalitarianism.’ The Guardian. Friday 3rd August 2018.



Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes above.

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