Trump Administration lowering the media’s reputation

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders during her briefing the other day when asked about a drop in the ranking of America as a free press nation, said that her standing there taking questions was an example of the Trump Administration’s respect and commitment to a free press.

No, it’s not.

What Sanders does in her briefings is find new ways to avoid any legitimate question the media asks. Same as colleague Kellyanne Conway and her boss, the President of the United States.

President Trump has called the media the “enemy of the people.” Not true, of course. But it is true that that trio of Trump-Sanders-Conway is the enemy of truth and transparency.

In the old days of the White House press operation (not that long ago) the press secretary briefed for as long as an hour sometimes more, taking questions until the media had no more. Today, the briefing typically runs (from my watching them on TV) from 30 minutes to three hours late and lasts one-half hour at best. And, the briefing is ended by Sanders not a member of the press as had been the tradition.

You might think these are minor points — but they are not. This means she can cut off any discussion at any time she chooses, stopping the media from continuing to pursue a topic, not providing transparency or a willingness to answer questions even when the reporters have more.

The Washington Post reported: “The watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday released its annual World Press Freedom Index, which ranks 180 countries from highest to lowest levels of press freedom. The United States fell in the ranking, as it did last year — this time, two places down to 45th. Norway remained on top, with North Korea as its polar opposite.”

The Secretary General of Reporters without Borders in the report says: “Political leaders who fuel loathing for reporters bear heavy responsibility because they undermine the concept of public debate based on facts instead of propaganda. To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangers political fire.”

Where does one begin to recount the times this President and his Administration have said things like “fake news” or avoided a question or flat-out lied about something? In just the last few days there are a few examples:

  1. Sanders’ unbelievably ridiculous statement that an example of the Administration’s support for the free press is her standing there answering their questions at that moment. But, go back and see what her answers were in that briefing. Overall, they were dodges, weaves and misrepresentations of a real answer
  2. Just this morning, President Trump returned to his favored way of campaigning in 2016 by calling into the Trump News Network, better known as Fox News, for an interview with Fox’ morning hosts who should be on the White House payroll the way they pander to this White House often saying things on their show that Trump finds so compelling that he will repeat later in the day as if they were his own thoughts.
  3. White House Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway was on CNN the other day being interviewed by Dana Bash. After avoiding most of Bash’s questions, the reporter next asked Conway about her husband’s Tweets criticizing this President. Conway went into faux anger phase accusing Bash of asking a sexist question and talking over her to continue making her not-true point. Bash, as is her demeanor and being, handled it professionally, not raising her voice or showing any anger herself. Conway should never be accepted as guest for an interview. She has never (in my view) spoken the truth and nearly always winds up attacking the interviewer as a way of getting off the topic and into something the President’s base will like.
  4. The other day at an Oval Office photo opp/media opportunity, an ABC reporter asked Trump if he was considering a pardon for Trump lawyer Michael Cohen who is under investigation. Trump, with the French president sitting next to him, looked at the reporter and dismissed the him by responding “stupid question.” (It was a legitimate question).

Those few examples come after a campaign’s worth and more than a year of the Trump presidency where he attacks the media, points to them during speeches to call them “fake” and to energize his audience. Some day one of those reporters will be attacked because of the President’s name-calling. In fact, at least one had to be escorted by law enforcement out of a Trump rally to be sure she was protected from the audience.

This is not a small thing, as evidenced by the Reporters Without Border study. This President has made it a major goal to destroy the media because it helps him feed his base the raw meat they love.

According to the Washington Post in 2017 the President used the term “fake news” more than 153 times. He uses the term to describe coverage he views as unfair to him or on a topic he’d rather the public not know about.

A Politico survey found that no foreign leader — even the worst in the world — used the term “fake news” before 2017. A year later, that is not true. A sampling:

  • In Libya, officials there quoted a Trump Tweet that called CNN fake news to discredit a story the cable network ran about migrants being sold into slavery.
  • Singapore, known for its already tight control of the news, introduced legislation that would allow government the power to force articles they deem to be “fake news” to be removed.
  • Burma. The UN Human Rights Commission estimates that more than a half million Rohingya have fled the country because of systematic military attacks. Asked about this, a Burmese government official said: “There are no such thing as Rohingya. It’s fake news.”
  • Syria. President Bashar al-Assad, who kills his own people including babies with nerve gas, was presented by Amnesty International with a report alleging serious human rights abuses at one of Syria’s prisons. Assad responded by saying not only was the news organization asking him (Yahoo News) unreliable but added, “as you know, we’re in a fake news era.”

So, the leader of Syria, a country Trump has bombed twice for its use of nerve gas, is quoting the U.S. president to cover for his atrocities.

I remember when U.S. presidents were quoted using lofty language about the freedoms of a democracy and how this country of migrants has led the way.

The good news is the media, especially outlets like The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, CNN and others have been doing some of their best reportorial work in years, going after stories they can’t get from government spokesmen. The bad news is we have a President who is doing his best to kill yet another American institution — the media solely to make himself look good.

Former deputy White House press secretary (Reagan and Bush 41) and former head of communications at Republican Natl Committee. My blog:

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