When the founders wrote the Constitution of the United States, they were very careful to protect certain freedoms.
Many people believe that freedom of speech is most vital to the functioning of a democratic society. As part of that free speech protection, the First Amendment to the Constitution protects freedom of the press. Powerful, free journalism is one of the most important checks on the power of the government.
Robert Reich is alarmed by the attacks on journalism that he sees in the Trump campaign and transition team. He knows that all despots abhor a free press. All of them work to control it.
Reich, a renowned economist and former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton (D-Ark), has written a blog post warning about the ongoing attempts by the new administration to control and suppress the media.
He listed 7 actions that the Trump camp is already undertaking to limit journalism. Those actions have been taken by tyrants throughout history.
1. Publicly insult the media
We’ve all heard Trump railing against the “dishonest” media. He’s called them “liars” and referred to them as “disgusting.” He encourages his audiences to turn and look at the media who are penned in the back of the room.
2. Blacklist media when it is critical
During the campaign Trump stopped giving access to the Washington Post, saying:
“Based on the incredibly inaccurate coverage and reporting of the record setting Trump campaign, we are hereby revoking the press credentials of the phony and dishonest Washington Post.”
3. Damage the public’s view of the media
Trump uses the most vile language to describe the media. He has called them liars, dishonest, disgusting. He makes them stand separately from the crowd at each of his events, penning them into a space in the back. He points to them, urging the crowd to heckle these people. He has even said that he “hates” some of them.
4. Condemn any satirical or critical coverage
It seems funny to many of us when Donald Trump tweets complaints about the “unfunny” episodes of “Saturday Night Live” that include impressions of him. He immediately turned on the huge Broadway hit “Hamilton” when the cast read a statement to Vice President elect Pence. He called the show “overrated” and claimed that the cast was disrespectful.
5. Issue direct threats to the press
Trump has threatened to sue the press when he feels that it has been unfair. He has threatened to sue the New York Times and several other media outlets, including this one, for coverage of issues ranging from his taxes, to his children, to accusations of sexual assault. He has said that he wants to change our libel laws to make it even easier to sue the media.
6. Limit access by the press
Trump has blacklisted media when he disapproves of their coverage. He has also stopped holding press conferences. Unlike nearly every other newly elected president, he has not spoken directly to the press in five months.
7. Skip the media and go directly to the people
Most of what Trump has been thinking and planning since his election has been learned on Twitter.
The problem with all of this, according to Reich, is that it is the job of the media to act as the go between, helping the public to learn hard facts about the government. He says:
“Responsible media hold the powerful accountable by asking them hard questions and reporting on what they do. Apparently Trump wants to eliminate such intermediaries.”
Throughout history, tyrants have used these same techniques. Beware.
Watch Robert Reich speaking about Trump, the authoritarian leader.
Featured image via YouTube screengrab.