By Stefan M. Kløvning
Washington D.C., Domestic Affairs – It’s not unusual to see President Trump speak out against news organizations like CNN or NBC News on Twitter and in rallies, but after having called for the AT&T, the world’s largest telecommunications company, to fire “little Jeff Z[ucker]”, President of CNN, and Andy Lack, Chairman of NBC News and MSNBC on Thursday, even Conservative commentators who generally defend his rants have said he has crossed the line.
The tweets follow CNN’s response to earlier backlash from Trump: “Make no mistake, Mr President, CNN does not lie. We report the news. And we report when people in power tell lies. CNN stands by our reporting and our reporters.” This defence comes in spite of them refusing to correct or clarify their story claiming that Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, was ready to tell prosecutors that the president knew in advance of the Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer after Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis called the account false.
Trump worked together with Zucker, then the CEO and President of NBC News, back when he cast ‘The Apprentice’ on the platform, and has since developed a “special resentment” against him.
Writing for Fox News on Friday, Howard Kurtz wrote the following about the tweets,
I have said since Donald Trump got into the campaign that he has every right to hit back at the media that he believes covers him unfairly.
I have said after each controversial story and each attack that while the president’s language is occasionally too harsh, the relentlessly negative coverage is fair game for his counterpunching approach.
But the president crossed a line yesterday that he should not have crossed in calling for the heads of two major networks to be fired.
He also pointed out that “if President Obama had urged Fox News to fire Roger Ailes, [former CEO and Chairman of Fox News] there would have been an explosion on the right.”
In the same tweetstorm, Trump also doubled down on calling “much of the media” for “the enemy of the people,” a term highly criticized (here & here) for its historical connotations when he first started using it last year. Last year, however, he specifically wrote “The FAKE NEWS media … is the enemy of the American people,” while on Thursday, he wrote “much of the media.”
Perhaps even more problematic about the term is that employees of Boston Globe received death threats in calls from a Robert Chain calling them “enemies of the people” on the same day, 16. August, that they published an editorial opining that a “central pillar of President Trump’s politics is a sustained assault on the free press … which has dangerous consequences.” The incident has been interpreted as a confirmation of the claim that his rhetoric encourages censorship against news sites unfavourable to the President.
Censorship can go both ways, as Trump himself has said at a recent rally. “I’d rather have fake news like CNN, than have anybody, including liberals, socialists, anything, than have anybody stopped and censored. We gotta live with it. … You can’t have censorship. You can’t pick one person and say ‘well, we don’t like what he’s been saying, he’s out.’ So, we’ll live with fake news, and I hate to say it, but we have no choice cause that’s by far the better alternative. Because you know why? It can turn around. It can be them next.”
Trump’s rhetoric tends to be a more common topic of discussion these days than his policies, and he has yet to introduce any kind of legislation suppressing negative coverage of him, which would’ve been both authoritarian and hypocritical of him to do, but his intimidation tactics on Twitter and at rallies have journalists worried how he’s influencing public’s attitudes towards the media, and encourage more individuals like Chain to silence the press as a third party. Critical thinking to what you’re reading, no matter the news organization the writer may represent, is key in separating fake and real news, and the nuances inbetween. It’s not the news organization per se that are right or wrong, it’s the claims they put forth, which may either be produced on ideological or truthseeking grounds.