Politico pulled no shots in its headline on Oct. 16, “Trump’s Attacks on the Press are Illegal. We’re Suing.”
Since President Trump ran for office in 2016, he has made numerous statements about the state of journalism, calling it “fake news” and “the enemy of the American people” in personal Tweets. It was a key part of his rallying speeches then and he has not faltered since his campaign.
“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy,” Trump said in a 2017 tweet. “It is the enemy of the American People!”
PEN America, a nonprofit organization that advocates for free expression in the United States, is teaming up with Protect Democracy and the Yale Law School Media Freeform and Information Clinic. Together, they are “filing suit in federal court seeking an order directing” Trump not to use his executive powers to retaliate against the press, said Suzanne Nossel, the CEO of PEN America.
Nossel announced in an article on Politico that the corporation is frustrated with Trump’s treatment of the press.
“President Donald J. Trump’s frequent threats and hostile acts directed toward journalists and the media are not only offensive and unbecoming of a democratic leader; they are also illegal,” she said.
Nossel then went on to reiterate that Trump’s verbal comments are legal under his First Amendment rights. “The president has free-speech rights just like the rest of us.”
The non-profit, instead, is filing suit in response to a few of Trump’s actions.
For instance, in early 2018, AT&T merged with Time Warner incorporation. It was not an easy process as the president’s “administration opposed the deal, a vertical merger that would not normally attract antitrust scrutiny,” Nossel said. AT&T is CNN’s parent company, who Trump has called “fake,” “garbage” and “terrible” on his Twitter account.
Nossel also mentioned that Trump “has also repeatedly attacked The Washington Post and threatened to target its owner Jeff Bezos’s biggest holding, Amazon.” On top of this, Trump has additionally barred certain reporters from press conferences – like Katitlan Collines at a Rose Garden press conference, said Nossel – because her questions were “impertinent.”
While I do agree that President Trump has every right to free speech, I personally feel that there is a danger that comes from limiting the press.
Last week, reporter Lindsay Boyle from The Day in New London, Connecticut came to campus and conducted a simulated press conference for Professor Molly Yanity’s storytelling class to give students the opportunity to participate, take notes and learn how to write a news story.
In the conference, Boyle discussed the dangers of the stigma “fake news.” She described how this contemporary concept makes the “job that much harder.” She said that with this spreading mindset people find it difficult to trust the media and are, likewise, more apprehensive of journalists.
Regardless of the role of modern social media and public access to false news stories, journalism was originally designed as an unique check-and-balance aspect of our democratic society. This role has not changed over the centuries.
Mike Wendling, a writer for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), wrote an article in January that detailed the history of the “fake news” concept. He highlighted Trump’s advocacy for the term. For instance, Trump “gave out ‘Fake News Awards’ to reporters who had made errors or poor predictions.”
Phillip Cunningham, assistant professor of media studies at Quinnipiac, said these “attempts to discredit journalists are perhaps as old as the profession itself.”
Regardless of the inbred misuse of news, this issue has become more problematic in modern society.
“Our current president isn’t the first to take advantage of the internet as a means of direct communication with his constituents,” Cunningham said. “However, he is the first effectively using it as a ‘bully pulpit’ to drown out opposition.”
The concept of fake news is frustrating to me, as well as hundreds of other journalists. I’ve spent the last four years, telling people what I was majoring in, what I wanted to do in my profession. More often than not, people would nod and say, “well, don’t be fake news.”
Boyle offered some excellent advice, however, to journalists combatting this stigma.
For example, she recommended three key steps: respond to everyone that comes forward about inaccuracies, ask those people about the specifics – which parts were inconsistent – and create an open dialogue. She also suggested that journalists “be honest” and “open about the process.”
For journalists, like Boyle, who are passionate in the field, these tips are imperative. Above all, she advocated for staying transparent and getting in touch with the community.
“We need people to understand that we get into this (job) because we want to inform the community and, in some cases, we want to fight for justice when something is wrong. That’s a noble thing but people don’t know that we’re doing that,” Boyle said.
The role of journalism is evolving, as it should be, for the better. We check our facts thoroughly (then we double check them) and we are reevaluating how we address the public.
However, personally, I don’t believe it is the responsibility of the government to decide how journalism evolves.