In another attack on journalists, President Donald Trump called the “fake news media” the “real enemy of the people” yesterday. The tweet is in response to uniformly negative coverage, including on Fox News, of Trump’s handling of his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since the vast majority of reporters described the summit as a debacle, it put most reporters in this category. The tweet caused even Fox reporter John Roberts to remark that he must also now be an “enemy of the people.” The White House is still reeling from Trump’s disastrous news conference with Putin and various Republican leaders (and Trump’s own intelligence figures) have made varying levels of corrections or outright contradictions of his words. I have repeatedly criticized the media for unfair coverage of the Trump investigations and related subjects. However, these attacks on the media are as unfounded as they are dangerous for American society. The President often has a point on slanted coverage but his use of such inflammatory and unjustified language should be rejected by all citizens.
Trump continues to call the summit a “great success” while blaming the media for the overwhelmingly negative reviews:
The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media. I look forward to our second meeting so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed, including stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear……..
Notably, however, polls show that Republicans remains overwhelming convinced that the summit was a success and Trump performed well. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans approved of the president’s showing and 21 percent said they disapproved, according to the CBS News poll published Thursday. However, overall 55 percent of the people disapproved of his performance and only 32 percent approved. While the 83 percent of Democrats disapproving can be discounted, Trump also lost the key independents with 53 percent expressing dissatisfaction with his performance.
Once again, the merits of Trump’s performance are not my concern. Rather the continued reference of journalists as “the enemy” is alarming and unprecedented for a sitting president. Past presidents have criticized the media without ratcheting up the rhetoric in this way. Not only does it undermine our core commitment under the First Amendment to a free press, it actually undermines Trump’s arguments. I agree with his criticism of some coverage as struggling to take the most negative view possible of his actions and policies. Even positive developments are often spinned in a way to denigrate the Administration. While Trump often gives ample reason for negative coverage, there is a pattern of biased reporting in my view. Yet, Trump negates that record by adopting the rhetoric of authoritarian figures in history in denouncing journalists as public enemies.
Ironically, it was Vladimir Lenin who denounced democratic leaders as “enemies of the people” and nations from China to Iran to Turkey have used this phrase to fight the free press or free expression.
Helsinki in my view was another self-inflected wounds and justifiably criticized. Trump can disagree with that assessment and highlight the positive outcomes from the summit. However, this country owes a huge debt to journalists who have courageously revealed government abuse and corruption for decades in our system. We have real enemies in this world and our strength is based in no small part to those who report on our government.