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Stopping Violence Against Reporters

July 5, 2017

I started to fear two things when Donald Trump ramped up his diatribes against journalists during the campaign, and used the same language as tyrants from the pages of history when berating the press.  My first concern was for the safety of reporters and journalists.  Second was the safety of our republic from a person–Trump–who has authoritarian aims.  What took place over the just concluded holiday period was most telling, and shocking.

Trump blasting the news media is nothing new, of course.  Recall that earlier this year Trump uttered the phrase “fake news” seven times during a White House news conference.   But his labeling the media as the “enemy of the American people” as he has done in the past places Trump alongside tyrants throughout history that were fond of that phrase.   History buffs , like myself, remember that the phrase was used during the purges ordered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.  The expression was also a favorite of China’s Mao Zedong, who used the “enemies of the people” label against anyone who opposed his policies. Identifying and later punishing those enemies was central to Mao’s rule.

After the troubling video this week of Trump beating senseless a person with a CNN mask digitally placed over his face means that we, as a nation, need to not only condemn such actions, but better understand the role of reporters and the part they contribute to our democracy. 

For more than a year many of these organizations — including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — have issued statements raising the alarm over Trump’s rhetoric and his administration’s attempts to restrict media access. CPJ’s website normally documents violence against reporters, detention of journalists or other measures to stifle the free press in places like Turkey, Venezuela or Azerbaijan. This month, though, the group will launch a project in conjunction with several other free-press organizations to document media restrictions and other incidents, including violent threats or attacks, against journalists in the United States.

Few are suggesting that the country is starting to veer toward the path of places like Russia, where reporters are sometimes mysteriously killed after tough reporting. The United States is unique with its First Amendment to the Constitution, backed by a strong court system and bipartisan consensus in favor of free speech. But a fear still exists among free-press advocates that extreme rhetoric demonizing media organizations can lead to extreme acts.

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