President Trump’s war on the free press and on journalists themselves is one of the defining features of his presidency. Unreasonably hostile to the media as soon as he realized that the White House press pools would not be treating him with the same kid gloves that New York tabloids did, Trump has not only been enormously disrespectful to the media but actively worked to put their lives at risk.
His refusal to hold the Saudi government accountable for the brutal murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi is one of the darkest stains on the black sheet of his presidency and a clear signal to every tinpot dictator around the world that it is now open season on those pesky journalists and their questions.
Now The New York Times is now reporting that Trump stood by and did nothing as another Arab dictatorship moved to imprison one of their journalists.
In 2017, the Times received a tip-off from a U.S. official that the Egyptian government was planning to arrest their Cairo correspondent, Declan Walsh, over his critical reporting on their human rights crackdown.
To make matters worse, the official said that Trump administration tried to keep that information from reaching the Times and was planning on letting the arrest unfold.
Walsh had to turn to his home country of Ireland for help, which immediately dispatched embassy officials to escort him to the airport and got him safely out of the country.
The incident, which was revealed by New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger in an op-ed, was followed up by this equally appalling behavior from the Trump administration:
“Eighteen months later, another of our reporters, David Kirkpatrick, arrived in Egypt and was detained and deported in apparent retaliation for exposing information that was embarrassing to the Egyptian government. When we protested the move, a senior official at the United States Embassy in Cairo openly voiced the cynical worldview behind the Trump administration’s tolerance for such crackdowns. “What did you expect would happen to him?” he said. ‘His reporting made the government look bad.'”
Egyptian dictator Fatah al-Sisi, once referred to by Trump as his “favorite dictator,” has been following in Trump’s footsteps and smearing the media as “false news” and slamming criticism of his government as an act of “high treason,” warning people in 2018 that “If someone defames the army or the police, he is defaming all Egyptians. This is not freedom of expression.”
Unlike Trump, he’s not afraid to back up his talk with cruelty and violence. Dozens of journalists have vanished into Egyptian prisons over the past few years, where they potentially face the death penalty — if they’re lucky enough to get charged with anything at all. Over half the reporters in Egyptian jails report being abused and mistreated by their captors.
The incident is a perfect encapsulation of how wildly dangerous it is to have Trump as our President. For him to try to conceal a threat against a reporter simply because he didn’t like the paper he worked for and it would please one of his dictator cronies is beyond horrifying. The impeachment proceedings that began this afternoon could not have come soon enough.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.