The same people who cry bloody murder over what they perceive as an abrogation of their Second Amendment rights are fervently attacking everyone’s First Amendment rights.
According to an article in The New York Times, a group of conservative activists connected to the Trump White House has hatched a conspiracy to aggressively attack and discredit journalists and the news organizations they work for with potentially damaging smear campaigns if they are considered hostile to Donald Trump.
Apparently, concluding that Trump’s daily attacks on the free press as “the enemy of the people” are not sufficient in combatting the steam of negative information about the president and his administration, the right-wing proponents of Trump’s fascistic assault on the media are resorting to the type of dirty tricks that they hope will undercut the influence of investigative journalism on public perception.
The Times attributes its knowledge of the operation to “four people familiar with the operation” who explained the coordinated actions of the group, “asserting that it has compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.”
Among the media companies whose journalists have already been targeted by the unofficial partisan organization are those who have doggedly and successfully revealed some of the most damaging information about Trump, his family, business partners, and administration to date, including his favorite targets of “Fake News” accusations — CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.
According to The New York Times:
“Operatives have closely examined more than a decade’s worth of public posts and statements by journalists, the people familiar with the operation said. Only a fraction of what the network claims to have uncovered has been made public, the people said, with more to be disclosed as the 2020 election heats up. The research is said to extend to members of journalists’ families who are active in politics, as well as liberal activists and other political opponents of the president.”
The newspaper tempers its reporting on the matter by reminding its readers that the claims that the operatives make about the material they have gathered can’t be independently verified and that those involved “have histories of bluster and exaggeration.”
The Times also suggests that the very exposure of the operation’s methods and aims may be simply part of their strategy to intimidate the media outlets and their employees. However, the information the group has already released “while in some cases stripped of context or presented in misleading ways, has proved authentic, and much of it has been professionally harmful to its targets,” according to the paper.
One of the key people involved in the subversive attacks on the media is 47-year-old conservative consultant Arthur Schwartz, a close friend of the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. and a former Associate of former Breitbart honcho and White House Advisor Steve Bannon.
After digging up social media posts from a Times editor that could be considered anti-Semitic, Schwartz tweeted a threat to expose more damaging information on the paper’s staffers.
— Arthur Schwartz (@ArthurSchwartz) August 22, 2019
The Times says that officials inside the Trump administration and re-election campaign were joined by right-wing news outlets such as Breitbart News and other conservative activists in spreading their smears.
According to the paper, “in the case of the Times editor, the news was first published by Breitbart, immediately amplified on Twitter by Donald Trump Jr. and, among others, Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, and quickly became the subject of a Breitbart interview with Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary and communications director.”
While the White House communications department insisted that neither Trump nor any other White House staff were aware of the scheme or involved in it nor did they, the Trump campaign, nor the Republican National Committee help fund it, they seemed to welcome the help in discrediting a media whose scrutiny has exposed so much corruption for the public to digest.
“We know nothing about this, but it’s clear that the media has a lot of work to do to clean up its own house,” Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director said.
Such an attitude is not unexpected from an administration that considers the media to be an “evil propaganda machine for the Democrat Party,” as Trump tweeted recently.
Trump and his cohorts clearly are counting on journalists to possess senses of shame completely absent from the mindsets of himself and his Republica cronies.
The campaign to unearth embarrassing and career-altering information in retribution for negative press from specific journalists is straight out of the same authoritarian playbook used by the Nazis and by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Media executives were angry over the blatant attempts at intimidation.
“If it’s clearly retaliatory, it’s clearly an attack, it’s clearly not journalism,” said Leonard Downie Jr., the former executive editor of The Washington Post.
Downie added that while there is always some tension between a president and the journalists who report on his actions, “an organized, wide-scale political effort to intentionally humiliate journalists and others who work for media outlets” is new.
“It’s one thing for Spiro Agnew to call everyone in the press ‘nattering nabobs of negativism,’” he said, referring to the former vice president’s famous quote about how journalists covered President Nixon. “And another thing to investigate individuals in order to embarrass them publicly and jeopardize their employment.”
In an age where every social media post can be archived and resurrected years later, many people have digital skeletons in their closets that can come back to unexpectedly haunt them years later. That post that you jokingly made in high school may not seem so funny taken out of context years later when you’ve graduated journalism school and forgotten about it,
Trump’s corps of defenders don’t care about the First Amendment. They only care about power and victory and will hurt anyone who stands in their way with impunity.
As Steve Bannon commented when discussing Trump’s media attack force:
“A culture war is a war,” he said. “There are casualties in war. And that’s what you’re seeing.”
Trump’s Hitlerian “Lügenpresse” (lying press) strategy has reached a new low. The culture war may be bloodier than we ever imagined it could be.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.