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.
|2016.10.13||Trump threatens to sue The New York Times over publishing article where they interviewed two women who claim Trump sexually assaulted them. nytimes.com (See also Lawsuits, 2016 Campaign, Fueds, Women, Misogyny)|
|2017.02.27||Former President George W. Bush breaks with Trump, saying that the media is “indispensable to democracy,” as opposed to Trump's statements that the press is “the enemy of the American people.” politico.com (See also First 100 Days)|
|2017.06.06||Of all sources, Fox News host Neil Cavuto on Tuesday hit Trump for his criticism of media outlets' coverage of his Twitter habits, saying “Mr. President, it’s not the fake news media that’s your problem. It’s you." thehill.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior)|
|2017.06.20||Over the course of the Trump administration, the White House’s daily press briefings have been pared progressively further back; they are now shorter, less frequent, and routinely held off-camera. theatlantic.com (See also Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon)|
|2017.06.22||The Trump administration, ignoring the need for a free press, has announced that Thursday's press briefing may not be recorded by anyone, and then went further to say that the press also couldn't report that this meeting could not be recorded. slate.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior, Censorship)|
|2017.06.27||A Time magazine with Trump on the cover hangs in his golf clubs. It’s fake news. washingtonpost.com (See also Administration Errors, Unpresidential Behavior)|
|2017.06.28||In a nonsensical tweet, Donald Trump attacked The Washington Post and Amazon, complaining that the “fake news” newspaper was protecting the online retailer from something called "internet taxes" with its coverage. politico.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior)|
|2017.06.29||Donald Trump lashed out at the hosts of MSNBC's “Morning Joe” in two vicious tweets, calling Mika Brzezinski “low I.Q. Crazy” and claiming that she had a facelift late last year. washingtonpost.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior, Misogyny, Women)|
|2017.07.02||Trump tweeted a modified video of a wrestling match between himself and his media rival CNN. thehill.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior, Unprecedented Actions)|
|2017.07.10||The Columbia University Law School professor and confidant of former FBI Director James Comey pushed back against a charge tweeted by Trump: that Comey shared classified information with journalists. cnn.com (See also Legal Activity, Assaults on Facts)|
|2017.07.12||On a day in which the president's schedule included no public events and the daily briefing was once again held off camera, principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared that the White House aims to be "as transparent as humanly possible." politico.com (See also Hypocrisy, Assaults on Facts)|
|2017.07.22||Anthony Scaramucci praised conservative news site Breitbart News during his first interview since being tapped to join the Trump administration, saying it has "captured the spirit of what's actually going on in this country." politico.com (See also Assaults on Facts)|
|2017.07.25||Trump lashed out at The Washington Post in a string of tweets, saying the newspaper had “fabricated the facts” about his decision to end a covert program aiding Syrian rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. washingtonpost.com (See also Syria)|
This action, of course, acknowledges that there was a secret U.S. program to aid Syrian rebels.
|2017.07.27||The White House has changed the transcript of Anthony Scaramucci's first press conference to say that Trump sinks "30-foot putts" instead of the "three foot putts" that he claimed at the time. dailydot.com (See also Administration Errors, Unpresidential Behavior)|
|2017.07.27||With a set of explicit tirades, the new White House communications director attacked Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and threatened to fire the entire communications staff. newyorker.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior, Trump Cabinet)|
|2017.08.01||A lawsuit filed by a man named Rod Wheeler makes a remarkable claim: The Trump White House — or Trump personally — may have been aware of or involved in a discredited Fox News story about the killing of a Democratic National Committee staffer last July. washingtonpost.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior)|
The suit claims that a wealthy Trump supporter asserted that the president reviewed a later-debunked Fox News story.
|2017.08.04||Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a harsh rebuke of leaks and the media that report them, and signaled that the Justice Department could be changing how it deals with reporters in such cases, while offering no details about the scope or timeline of the review. buzzfeed.com (See also Jeff Sessions, Department of Justice)|
|2017.08.04||Trump has let almost six months pass without holding a solo press conference, despite other presidents addressing the press before they leave for vacations. money.cnn.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior)|
|2017.08.06||Use of a regulatory loophole revived by Trump's appointed FCC Chairman, will allow Sinclair Broadcast Group and its conservative-leaning television content to reach 72 percent of U.S. households. politico.com|
|2017.08.07||Trump’s daughter-in-law is “running the show” at his Trump TV project funded by his reelection campaign. thedailybeast.com (See also Trump Family, Eric Trump, Assaults on Facts, Fascism)|
The quasi-propaganda videos are made in Trump Tower, overseen by the president’s daughter-in-law, and using campaign cash to pay for them.
|2017.08.21||Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday undercut one of Donald Trump's most-repeated claims, telling a group at the Louisville Chamber of Commerce that "most news is not fake." politico.com (See also Assaults on Facts)|
|2017.09.11||The FBI recently questioned a former White House correspondent for Sputnik, the Russian-government-funded news agency, as part of an investigation into whether it is acting as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Kremlin. huffingtonpost.com (See also Russian Meddling in Election, Trump Relationship with Russia, Russia)|
|2017.10.18||In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he can’t ‘make a blanket commitment’ not to jail journalists for doing their jobs. washingtonpost.com (See also Assaults on Civil Liberties, Jeff Sessions, Department of Justice)|
|2017.12.15||Using taxpayer dollars, the Environmental Protection Agency inked a no-bid $120,000 cutting-edge Republican PR firm that specializes in digging up opposition research to help Administrator Scott Pruitt’s office track and shape press coverage of the agency. motherjones.com (See also Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency, Assaults on Civil Liberties)|
|2017.12.22||While most presidents in modern times have chosen to hold a formal news conference in December to tout accomplishments, Donald Trump left the White House without doing so, the first time in 15 years that the president has opted not to. money.cnn.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior)|
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.