It’s hardly news that Donald Trump uses the term “fake news” to attack negative though accurate stories, delegitimize the press and whip up anti-media frenzy among his most rabid supporters. At a private meeting today at the UN Mission in New York, Trump called reporters "scum."
It is news that more than 50 prime ministers, presidents and top government officials from around the world have followed the example of Trump, according to a study by the New York Times.
They take their cue from a guy who presides over a country that once took great pride in its fierce defense of an open and free media.
During a talk at Brown University on Sept. 23, NYT publisher AG Sulzberger said the fake news phrase has even been used to deny the existence of an entire people. “There is no such thing as Rohingya,” a Myanmar official told a Times reporter.
The government of Myanmar is trying to eradicate the Rohingya from the country.
Foreign leaders pay attention to Trump when he brands reporters as “enemy of the people,” and accuses them of treason.
“The treason charge is perhaps the most serious a commander-in-chief can make,” said Sulzberger. “By threatening to prosecute journalists for invented crimes against their country, president Trump gives repressive leaders implicit license to do the same.”
While the Constitution, rule of law and a robust media serve as restraints on Trump, it’s open season on reporters overseas.
Sulzberger said: “Even as we worry about the dangers our own reporters face, these dangers usually pale in comparison to what courageous local journalists confront around the world. They search for truth and report what they find, knowing that they and their loved ones are vulnerable to fines, arrests, beatings, torture, rape and murder.
“These reporters are the front-line soldiers in the battle for press freedom, and they’re the ones who pay the greatest price for president Trump’s anti-press rhetoric.”
Threats and intimidations hurled at reporters also have a chilling effect, as many stories never surface, go unreported or get covered up.
“This is a perilous moment for journalism, for free expression and an informed public,” said Sulzberger. “But the moments and places where it is most difficult and dangerous to be a journalist, are the moments and places where journalism is needed most.”
Trump’s words are dangerous and have real-world consequences, said the Times publisher.
He chided elected officials who betray the ideals of the Constitution when they undermine the free press for short-term gain.
Sulzberger urged leaders of both political parties to support independent journalism and oppose “the countless efforts underway to attack, intimidate and delegitimize” journalists here and overseas.
“This is a worldwide assault on journalists and journalism,” said Sulzberger. But even more important, it’s an assault on the public’s right to know, on core democratic values, on the concept of truth itself. And perhaps most troubling, the seeds of this campaign were planted right here."