By Mike Rosso
Is the freedom of the press in the United States under attack?
Judging from the past year, the evidence would suggest so. First, you’ve got the Republican nominee for president insisting libel laws be changed to make it easier to sue the media. His reasons for this are obvious; the media’s reporting of his own words and deeds has led to a dramatic drop in his poll numbers. Naturally he’s going to attack the messenger. The angry minions at his rallies chant “CNN sucks,” and make vulgar gestures at the press corps as they are led in, with the blessings of their thin-skinned candidate. There is some irony in this. CNN and other outlets have provided wall to wall coverage of Donald Trump since he announced his candidacy gliding down an escalator with his fashion-model-bride. He’s received millions of dollars worth of free coverage other candidates could only dream of, but when that coverage turned negative, such as after the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” bus tapes, he immediately began threatening the media with lawsuits.During a Trump rally at the University of Illinois’ Chicago campus in March, a CBS reporter of Eastern Indian descent, Sopan Deb, was handcuffed and charged with resisting arrest, although tapes reveal him not resisting and identifying himself as working press. Only a week earlier, Chris Morris, a photographer on assignment for Time magazine, said a Secret Service agent choked him and slammed him to the ground.
Trump has repeatedly called working journalists “disgusting” and “horrible people,” insisting they’re all part of a “rigged” infrastructure in this election cycle that’s conspiring against him. The traveling press corps covering Trump’s October rally in Cincinnati had to be escorted out the back door of the event to a heavily guarded motorcade after being greeted with boos, middle fingers and an arena-wide chant of “Tell the truth” from the crowd of 15,000. This past winter, NBC reporter Katy Tur was specifically called out by Trump at a rally as a “dishonest” and “third rate reporter,” and had to be escorted to her car by Secret Service agents.
In early October, the Committee to Protect Journalists passed a resolution “declaring Trump an unprecedented threat to the rights of journalists and to CPJ’s ability to advocate for press freedom around the world,” and the National Press Club also condemned Trump’s anti-media crusade.
Fortunately, some in the media are fighting back. When Trump threatened to sue the New York Times, demanding they retract an article featuring two women who accused him of inappropriately touching them, the Times’ lawyer shot back, claiming the issue was of national importance, given Trump’s surly reputation, and then backed up the Times’ reporters, praising the diligence required to confirm the women’s accounts.
“It would have been a disservice not just to our readers but to democracy itself to silence their voices,” said the attorney. Realizing that litigating the charges in a courtroom setting would likely air even more of Trump’s dirty laundry, he apparently has backed off.
But it’s not Trump’s opinion of the press that worries me; he will hopefully soon be relegated to the trash dump of history, his “brand” having suffered a humiliating defeat, to a woman no less. What worries me is his base: the 40 percent of voting Americans who are convinced the media is rigged against them and their voices. Like many others in this country, they get much of their news in a vacuum – on friends’ Facebook feeds, Breitbart News or Infowars.com – an echo chamber which only serves to confirm their worst fears, true or not. Even if Trump loses, these folks are not going away and will be hating on Hillary no matter what she does.
Thankfully, a North Dakota judge ruled the state lacked probable cause for the riot charge, blocking prosecutors from moving forward with the controversial prosecution.
I’m the first to admit that the U.S. mainstream media can be obnoxious, overbearing and sometimes very negligent and misguided in their reporting, often focusing on the latest shiny object instead of stories that really affect the lives of everyday American citizens. I’m also not convinced a Clinton presidency will guarantee there won’t be issues with press censorship during her administration, but, for the sake of truth, understanding, transparency and democracy, I believe the First Amendment must be upheld at all costs.