As America hurtles towards the frightening prospect of a Trump administration there are many aspects of our culture, our democracy, and our community that are under attack. Not least among these is the institution of the free press. Indeed the Trump administration promises to be the most restrictive towards journalistic freedom of any in recent memory. Mr. Trump has banned critical news organizations from covering his appearances, claimed he will sue critical journalists, vowed to expand libel laws to limit criticism, encouraged supporters to attack journalists, and even suggested banning reporters from the White House.
The tremendous threat Trump poses to the invaluable institution of the free press was driven home last Wednesday when the president-elect refused to answer a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta simply because CNN reporting on allegations that the KGB had blackmailed the president-elect. Now, however, the journalists are fighting back.
Kyle Pope, the editor and chief and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, has penned an open letter to Mr. Trump on behalf of American journalists to “clarify… the relationship between [his] administration and the American press.” The letter contains eight specific points that he argues journalists should fight for, among them belief in an objective truth, media control over air time, and higher standards of journalistic ethics.
Pope argues that the resiliency of the free press will overcome any of Trump’s attempts to squelch it. “We are very good at finding alternative ways to get information,” he says in response to Trump’s proposed banning of journalists. “Telling reporters that they won’t get access to something isn’t what we’d prefer, but it’s a challenge we relish.”
Most importantly, Pope is calling for the sort of unity of the press that has been so conspicuously absent when Trump has targeted a specific journalist or institution in the past, as he did to Jim Acosta last week and as he has done before to The Washington Post. His call for solidarity is a powerful rebuke of a Trump administration that is counting on infighting to divide and conquer:
“We now recognize that the challenge of covering you requires that we cooperate and help one another whenever possible. So, when you shout down or ignore a reporter at a press conference who has said something you don’t like, you’re going to face a unified front,” Pope argued. “We’ll work together on stories when it makes sense, and make sure the world hears when our colleagues write stories of importance.”
While acknowledging the significant threat posed to the press by a Trump administration, Pope’s letter is ultimately optimistic, as it should be given the triumph of truth over tyranny that has played out throughout history. The free press has “been around since the founding of the Republic,” he notes, “and [its] role in this great democracy has been ratified and reinforced again and again and again.” We can only hope that that message of hope will be stronger than Trump’s promised repressions.
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.