Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin shared an anti-media moment in Hamburg when they faced journalists and Putin asked “These are the ones hurting you?” Trump responded “These are the ones. You’re right about that.” While I have been very critical of what I see as distortive and biased coverage of the Trump Administration, I have also been critical of Trump’s attacks on the media. This is an example where journalists have a legitimate right to recoil at the scene. Trump was commiserating with a man who has decimated the free press in Russia where dozens of journalists have been killed. With Trump calling for reductions in the protections afforded to media and attacking the media, there is a heightened and understandable sensitivity to these type of scenes.
Since 1993, roughly 60 reporters have been killed. Russia maintains a close level of control over the press where Putin has reinstated authoritarianism in the country after a fleeting period of democratic rule.
To have such an exchange with a man like Putin about the free press is a truly low moment for our country. The men and women in front of the two leaders represent a profession that has lost dozens of journalists who fought to publish the truth about the Putin regime. Thousands more have died around the world in the struggle for free speech and the free press. I understand the need to deal with figures like Putin in diplomacy but commiserating with the likes of Vladimir Putin about the free press is a terrible image for any American president. Putin is not a great man and the media is not the enemy. We can (and should) criticize the media for their loss of objectivity but even casual moments like this one with Putin carry a chilling message both in Russia and the United States. There remain committed journalists in Russia who look to the United States as their ally in the fight for a free press. For them, these comments must be chilling and demoralizing.