EDITORIAL: Free press, democracy are under threat
Administration fans the flame undermining core values
While countries around the globe have moved toward authoritarianism and the trend of democracy continues to decline, it would be naïve to neglect America’s role and the inches it has moved, as well. According to Freedom House, the suppression of journalists and independent news media is at its worst point in 13 years. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that the number of journalists imprisoned for their work is at its highest level since the 1990s. Reporters Without Borders released its annual World Press Freedom Index in April, which ranks 180 countries from highest to lowest levels of press freedom. The United States fell in ranking, as it did last year.
Adversarial relations between the press and the executive branch are not new for this nation. But, the degree of targeted delegitimization and use of the label “fake news” by the current administration is already a scar on our shared history, as they have manifested in violence and left a fracture in our democratic foundation.
President Donald J. Trump’s blanket use of “fake news” has provided authoritarians of similar conscience a tool to beat down the legitimacy of press and opposition. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) had condemned Trump’s rhetoric in reference to the free press and claimed his use of the term "fake news" undermines journalism and "seems (to have) inspired dictators and authoritarians."
It should not be misconstrued that his attacks on the media are a deliberate means of manipulating us-versus-them social grouping and undermine any unfavorable coverage or accusations. But, Trump’s need for an enemy to rally his base in opposition has consequences with death tolls. The fact that there is not a unanimous bipartisan condemnation of Trump’s rhetoric describing the media as the “enemy of the people” is dangerously reckless and an unpatriotic exercise of hollow representatives.
Many may have forgotten because of the 307 total mass shootings that occurred in 2018, but in June, five people were shot dead and others injured in what police described as a “targeted attack” on a newspaper in Annapolis, Md.
Throughout the last week of October, a Florida man who had ranted against Democrats and spouted hateful messages against minorities online attempted to commit domestic terrorist attacks, targeting those who have criticized Trump’s rhetoric and policies with mail bombs. One of the targets was CNN’s New York office.
The “fake news” label must be isolated and removed from mainstream discourse. The rise of the label has led to college students questioning the validity of all news.
According to a study on new media consumption among college students, almost half of approximately 6,000 American college students surveyed said they lacked confidence in discerning real from fake news. Thirty-six percent of respondents said just the threat of misinformation caused a decline in trust of all media.
On Nov. 22, 2016, Stanford University released a study that found not just college students, but students of varying levels consistently lack the ability to determine the credibility of an online news source.
Trump’s recent unhinged press conference a day after the midterm elections showed once again that this nation’s leader is an adversary to the fundamental value of freedom of press and the dignity of journalism.
After a heated exchange between CNN reporter Jim Acosta and Trump, the reporter’s press pass was suspended. It was even less favorable when the White House promoted a doctored video of Acosta. The administration claims that it based its decision to ban him on the video, which was revealed by frame-by-frame comparison to make it appear as though Acosta was more aggressive with a White House intern attempting to grab the microphone from his hand.
Free press and democratic values are under siege in countries around the world and America is not immune to the spreading plague. We must recognize the fundamental threat of the current administration’s rhetoric and denounce it.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 150th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.