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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Trump's attacks on free press are un-American

    President Donald Trump points to members of the media as he speaks during a meeting with inner city pastors in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

    Basking in the admiration of the carefully selected crowd of devotees, the commander instructs the followers not to believe his critics or reports in the news. It is all fake. They are to believe only him. The crowd roars its acceptance.

    Seeing such behavior, the owner of the nation’s largest newspaper expresses concern that some of those whipped up by the rhetoric labeling the domestic news media “the enemy of the people” could turn to violence. Already the crowds are jeering the journalists sent to cover the rallies.

    So alarmed are human rights advocates at the United Nations, they issue a statement cautioning that the leader’s “attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law.” They too are “concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence.”

    It is a scenario typically befitting a wannabe despot seeking to undercut a fledgling democracy or a cult-like third-world leader.

    Sadly, alarmingly, it instead describes U.S. President Donald J. Trump.

    And there appears little chance Trump will change. Repeated requests that he stop the attacks on the news media have left him unmoved. When in June a gunman walked into an Annapolis newspaper and fatally shot five employees, it gave Trump no pause. While the killer’s motivations appeared tied to a specific grudge against the Capital Gazette, his actions served as a reminder of what can happen when newspapers become a perceived enemy.

    After New York Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger privately met with the president to implore him to stop his “increasingly dangerous” broad attacks on journalists, Trump responded by escalating his verbal assaults.

    At a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Thursday, Trump pointed to the news reporters and told the adoring crowd, “They don’t report it. They only make up stories.”

    “They can make anything bad, because they are the fake, fake, disgusting news,” said the president.

    Since Trump will not change, it is up to leaders of all stripes, but particularly Republican leaders, to clearly state that seeking to undermine the news media is not acceptable and is un-American.

    Is the news media above criticism? Absolutely not. Every day, through letters to the editor and reader comments on www.theday.com, this newspaper provides our critics a venue, as do newspapers across the country. Contact information on how to reach us can be found on Page A2 or online by clicking "contact us" at the top of the page. 

    The Trump administration, and its backers, are welcomed to offer specific examples of news reports that got it wrong or to make the case that coverage is slanted. But that’s very different from asking Americans to dismiss any coverage the president does not like as “fake.”

    Sulzberger recognizes that if blanket attacks on the press are accepted in this country, which saw a free press as so vital it protected it in the First Amendment to its Constitution, it will become that much easier for other world leaders to attack and neutralize the media in their countries.

    In their joint statement, spokesman from the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed concern about the damage Trump is inflicting.

    “Two years of attacks on the press could have long term negative implications for the public’s trust in media and public institutions. Two years is two years too much, and we strongly urge that President Trump and his administration and his supporters end these attacks,” it said.

    Cult-like, Trump, in his demand for fealty, asks his ardent supporters to ignore facts and even his own administration.

    For example, as Trump headed to his rally in Wilkes-Barre on Thursday, top members of his cabinet were talking to reporters about Russia’s continuing efforts to disrupt U.S. elections and fuel divisions within the nation, with the goal of undermining democracy.

    “Our democracy is in the crosshairs,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

    But what did Trump tell his crowd at Wilkes-Barre about the continuing news reporting of Russian interference and the investigation into it?

    “Now, we are being hindered by the Russian hoax. It’s a hoax, OK?” Trump said.

    And the crowd cheered.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.