Attempts to Discredit Media

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects free speech and the free press, and this is one of the things that distinguish democratic and authoritarian governments. In an authoritarian government, media must respect the demands and desires of authority. The press isn't under direct control of the government, but is nonetheless subject to government censorship. (More on Authoritarian Theory of Mass Communication.)

The right to free speech means people can express themselves without interference or constraint by the government. The Supreme Court has recognized some limits: advocating illegal action, fighting words, speech that is inherently commercial, and obscenity. Freedom of the press mirrors freedom of expression. Individuals can publish and disseminate information whether they are members of the press or not. 

Trump has repeatedly restricted press access, has threatened "opening up libel laws" to make lawsuits against media easier, and has regularly called members of the media "dishonest." 

Following his inauguration, he increased his anti-press rhetoric, and his spokesman Sean Spicer lied about the size of the crowd gathered. Trump also lied about his feud with the Central Intelligence Agency over Russian meddling in the election, implying it was a media fabrication even though primary-source evidence, including his own tweets, prove otherwise. 

See Assaults on Civil Liberties.

Timeline


Assessments

M.T. Anderson — Slate.com

A piece by National Book Award winning author M.T. Anderson: 

Donald Trump shares several important traits with his ally Vladimir Putin—foremost among them, the deployment of outrageous lies as a political tool. Putin is a master of disinformation. After Russian troops and aircraft invaded Ukraine in 2014, for example, he simply denied they were there, which slowed and destabilized Western response. The deployment of falsehood by Putin’s regime is right out of the old Soviet playbook. It was, in particular, a specialty of Josef Stalin’s, who projected a similar strongman image and whose constant flood of lies was central to Communist rule for decades.

Trump comes by his carnival-barker falsehoods through a different lineage, via the red-blooded capitalist traditions of the American salesman. But it’s worth giving a comparative look at the effectiveness of a regime of lies in Stalin’s Russia, especially given the surprising penetration of Russian interests in our incoming American regime.

Of course, it is hyperbolic to compare Trump’s lies to Stalin’s. The differences between the two figures are many. (For one thing, Stalin actually read his intelligence briefings.) Trump and some of his Cabinet appointees are dazzled, even seduced, by the Russians, but their interest is clearly more in the culture of the current oligarchs than the drab, murderous Soviet functionaries who trained Putin and his ilk. Nonetheless, it’s worth following just one strand of comparison between these self-declared strongmen: the use of lies as a principle of control. As we struggle through the muck of ludicrous but toxic disinformation that currently infests our political swamp, we should look to the past to remind ourselves of both the potency of rampant political dishonesty at the highest levels of government and the ultimate limits of its effectiveness.

Frank Langfitt — NPR

Langfitt observes the similarities of Spicer's press conference on inauguration attendance and Conway's "alternative facts" to China's tactics dealing with foreign press:

When Todd pressed Conway on Spicer's falsehoods, she responded: "Chuck, if we're going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms, I think we're going to have to rethink our relationship."

To most viewers, that sounded like a threat.

To me, all this sounded like standard operating procedure in authoritarian China, where I'd spent a decade as a reporter.

The White House seemed to be using the same tactics the Chinese government routinely uses against the foreign press corps: Make false claims to support an alternative narrative. When challenged, threaten reporters — and then try to delegitimize them.