Trump calls the fake news media the enemy of the people. Bannon calls the press the opposition party. Spicer says that banning the free press is what dictators do, and then does exactly that.
Over the last week, Trump has dramatically escalated his attacks on the press. During a campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida, Trump began his speech by criticizing the media while comparing his views on the press to those held by Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln.
I also want to speak to you without the filter of the fake news. The dishonest media which has published one false story after another with no sources, even though they pretend they have them, they make them up in many cases, they just don’t want to report the truth and they’ve been calling us wrong now for two years. They don’t get it. By they’re starting to get it. I can tell you that. They’ve become a big part of the problem. They are part of the corrupt system. Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln and many of our greatest presidents fought with the media and called them out often times on their lies. When the media lies to people, I will never, ever let them get away with it. I will do whatever I can that. They don’t get away with it.
Later, Trump focused the ire of the crowd on the press pool when he proactively criticized them for not capturing the extent of the gathering at the rally.
And by the way, do you think that one media group back there, one network will show this crowd. Not one. Not one. They won’t show the crowd.
Less than a week later, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon repeatedly referred to the “mainstream media” — a term he often shortens to “MSM” — as “the opposition party.”
The next day, Trump dedicated a full six and a half minutes of his CPAC address to lambasting and ridiculing the media during which he:
- Called the fake news the enemy of the people.
- Called for a ban on anonymous sources (which the Trump administration itself uses liberally).
- Challenged anonymous sources to “say it to my face.”
- Accused the media of fabricating sources.
- Called CNN the “Clinton News Network.”
- Once again criticized the 2016 election polls (which, considering the fact that polls measure the popular vote rather than Electoral College votes, were actually quite accurate).
- Called the media very smart, very cunning, and very dishonest.
- Ridiculed the media because “they always bring up the first amendment.”
- Claimed that the media doesn’t represent the people, never will represent the people, and vowed to do something about it.
During his comments, Trump attempted to distinguish between “fake” news outlets and the honest media, though he did not elaborate on which outlets he considers to be in which categories. However, a week prior to his CPAC speech, Trump used Twitter to definitively declare The New York Times, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and CNN enemies of the people.
Though Trump vowed to do something about what he considers to be fake news, he did not clarify what his administration was planning. However, later that night, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer barred seven news organizations (The New York Times, BuzzFeed News, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, the BBC, and The Huffington Post) from a press briefing while admitting conservative-leaning outlets like The Washington Times, the One America News Network, and Breitbart News — the far-right website known for fabrications and conspiracy theories, formerly run by Steve Bannon.
Freedom of the press is considered so critical to a healthy democratic system that it is enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:
This clause is generally understood as a means to prevent the government from interfering with the distribution of information and opinions.
Additionally, suppressing or otherwise attempting to control the media is widely considered a tactic employed by dictators or aspiring dictators. Even Press Secretary Sean Spicer, in December of last year, told Politico (one of the media outlets he banned from his recent press briefing) that the fact that the government can’t ban the media is what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.