Emily Kowalik ’18
Assistant Opinions Editor
Although both are quite new to their offices, Donald J. Trump and chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon have declared the press an opposition party, making it clear that the relationship between their administration and the media will be a toxic one. During his rocky first couple weeks in office, Trump positively battered the press. He often referred to journalists as being “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”
It’s true that most modern presidents have not had a record of warm relations with the media. For decades, it has become almost standard for presidents to regard reporters with suspicion and to attempt to keep some distance between themselves and the press.
The practices of intimidating journalists, dodging White House reporters and arranging dramatic events for television were not created by Trump. However, under this man’s influence, the so-called war on news media has undergone a staggering – and possibly dangerous — shift.
Since his entry into the political arena, Trump has demonstrated that he judges reporting solely on how his own image and strength are portrayed. The president’s incredible thin skin, sensitivity and obsession with his own image mean one thing: any illusion of a productive, or a merely tolerant association between Trump and the press has been thrown out the window.
Bannon, who shares Trump’s antagonistic feelings toward the press, has said that the media or “the opposition party” should “be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” That is a revolting phrase coming from a top official of a democratic nation which highly values freedom of the press.
It appears that Bannon might need a lesson in the necessity of free press in America. A nation where the government talks and the press must keep its “mouth shut” and “just listen” is one in which information and opinions cannot be published without fear of censorship or government reprisal. This is a true concern, considering that Trump’s frequent attacks on the press have often had heavy overtones of vengeance and the desire to silence his opposition.
The Constitution’s framers provided the press with broad freedom because a free press is necessary to ensure the existence of a strong, independent democcracy. In light of the Trump administration’s recently established “Muslim ban,” and the possibility of similar rash measures that may follow in the next four years, the public needs the news media now more than ever. This is a time when Americans – members of the press or not – cannot afford to be silent.
In an era of fake news, widely dispersed rumors and “alternative facts,” honest and objective reporters should not be belittled by a president more obsessed by his own self-worth than the traditions and values of our nation.