Today it’s all the rage to play Chicken Little about how Donald Trump is going to destroy you and whatever interest group to which you belong. In her acceptance speech after receiving an award for “achievement in the cause of press freedom,” CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour warned of the “peril” journalists face under a President Trump.
She began with referencing a post election tweet from Trump.
Ladies and gentlemen, I added the bits from candidate Trump as a reminder of the peril we face. I actually hoped that once President-elect, all that that would change, and I still do. But I was chilled when the first tweet after the election was about “professional protesters incited by the media.”
Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2016
He walked back the part about the protesters but not the part about the media.
We’re not there. But postcard from the world: This is how it goes with authoritarians like Sisi, Erdoğan, Putin, the Ayatollahs, Duterte, et al.
As all the international journalists we honor in this room tonight and every year know only too well: First the media is accused of inciting, then sympathizing, then associating — until they suddenly find themselves accused of being full-fledged terrorists and subversives. Then they end up in handcuffs, in cages, in kangaroo courts, in prison — and then who knows?
Note that she’s rejecting the possibility that any part of the media actually IS inciting protesters. Someone is making people take to the streets and protest their imminent abduction by Trump’s stormtroopers. False narratives—remember “hands up don’t shoot?”—that exacerbate violent protests are not exactly unheard of. We’ve seen it over and over again the last few years. Even if the press weren’t inciting protests, it is still a bit unhinged to make the jump from Trump’s bluster against the media to kangaroo courts and prison.
A great America requires a great and free and safe press. So this above all is an appeal to protect journalism itself.
Recommit to robust fact-based reporting without fear nor favor — on the issues. Don’t stand for being labeled crooked or lying or failing. Do stand up together — for divided we will all fall.
Trump hasn’t even been inaugurated yet and he is already softening his stances. The “firing squad” meeting he had with reporters this week, reports of which were enthusiastically shared by Trump fans across social media, was probably a stunt meant to distract them from his flip flop on investigating and prosecuting Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s “crooked Hillary” narrative and his promise to “lock her up” evaporated overnight. His threats about opening up libel laws to go after reporters will probably do the same.
Trump’s bombastic schtick is meant mostly for providing vicarious enjoyment to (and securing the support of) his target market. Threats against the media will likely be one more promise cast aside now that the election is won.
We have to accept that we’ve had our lunch handed to us by the very same social media that we’ve so slavishly been devoted to.
The winning candidate did a savvy end run around us and used it to go straight to the people. Combined with the most incredible development ever — the tsunami of fake news sites — aka lies — that somehow people could not, would not, recognize, fact check, or disregard.
I have railed against gullible people sharing fake news myself, but fake news did not win the election for Trump. An electorate angry about the status quo was faced with a choice between two unlikeable candidates. Both had committed followers but in the end the election was decided by people whose anger and dislike for Hillary Clinton outweighed their disgust for Donald Trump. Trump appealing directly to the people and bypassing the leftist press filter was and is a smart move.
Noticeably absent from Amanpour’s apocalypse is any mention of Barack Obama’s distinction as more hostile to the press than any President in U.S. history. His administration targeted, persecuted, and spied on journalists like the New York Times’ James Risen, Fox News’ James Rosen, and CBS’ Sharyl Attkisson to name a few. Selective prosecution of whistleblowers more logically qualifies Obama for Amanpour’s list of tin pot dictators than Trump’s asinine tweeting does the President-elect. Still she failed to even give the outgoing administration a passing mention. That makes her dire predictions sound very partisan and hollow.
Journalism does face an existential crisis, but it is one of its own making. Being recognized as water carriers for the left and a weapon against the right is a bigger threat to the press than anything Trump is likely to do.