The Left Continues to Peddle the Lie that Trump Represents a Threat to Press Freedom
Saturday night’s White House Correspondents dinner once again came and went without most Americans having paid it any serious attention, and for the third straight year, our president chose to miss this increasingly farcical event where journalists pat each other on the back for the fine jobs they believe themselves to be doing. What made this year’s event a little different than years past is that none of the other senior members of the White House staff attended, either.
“That decision came after Sarah Huckabee Sanders endured cruel taunts at the hands of last year’s featured speaker, comedian Michelle Wolf,” Emily Zanotti reports at The Daily Wire. “[D]espite a longstanding tradition of good-natured ribbing between the press and the president, through dueling speeches, the White House simply stopped RSVPing to the event.”
Without the luxury of roasting their political enemies in attendance to feign a comedic tone rather than a purely adversarial one, the organizers of the event dropped the façade of humor in favor of a “funerary tone” led by a historian rather than the traditional choice of a comedian.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the event offered anything short of bad comedy.
For example, the White House Correspondents Association’s president Olivier Knox committed to a “dark sermon,” according to Grabien News.
Olivier Knox at the WHCA Dinner
Photo credit: NBC screen grab via YouTube
In February of 2017, he told the audience, “the president called us the enemy of the people,” he said. A few days later, he said, his son asked if Donald Trump was going to put him in prison. “At the end of a trip to Mexico,” he continued, “he mused that if the president tried to keep me out of the country, at least Uncle Josh is a good lawyer and will get you home.”
For the record, Trump has never threatened to imprison a journalist or prevent a citizen journalist from reentering the country from abroad. If Knox were an honest man, he might have told his son: “No, son, none of that will happen. You only believe that because a lot of people make their living by making up such nonsensical stories about how this president might do such things.”
But he certainly wouldn’t say that, because those are the lies upon which this entire event was centered. There was a calculated effort to portray this administration as uniquely at odds with a free and critical press in the scope of American history. For example, historian and host Ron Chernow quipped that “George Washington felt maligned and misunderstood by the press, but he never generalized that as a vendetta against the institution.”
Can any sane person, much less a “historian,” actually argue that Trump is the only president to malign the free press, as an institution, for spreading “fake news?”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt certainly did, and he remains a hero of the left despite having done so.
According to Columbia professor Raymond Moley, a close confidant of FDR, his president believed that a “long list” of newspapers was “guilty of falsifying news.” He said that “nothing would help him more [in the 1936 election] than to have it known that the newspapers were all against him.”
Sure enough, in the 1936 election campaign, FDR “claimed that 85% of newspapers were against him,” complaining about their “poisonous propaganda.” Despite there being an awful lot of criticism about the employment of his “new instruments of public power,” FDR was almost certainly exaggerating the extent of the newspapers’ bias against him. Even still, he was none too kind toward the press about their consistent criticism, and generalized his opinion as a “vendetta against the institution” of the then-mainstream press.
Should we expect Trump, today, to be any different? Trump endures a constant barrage of criticism via 24-hour news cycles, prominently disseminated by mainstream coverage, and practical data has suggested that as much as 91% of that coverage is negative. So, while it’s easy to argue that FDR was imagining (or purposely fabricating) such widespread opposition among the press, such bias against President Trump definitely exists, and it’s obvious to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention.
The difference is that Trump hasn’t used his power to clamp down on his opposition in the press beyond offering harsh criticism. Sure, he’s been highly critical of the mainstream media which is obviously aligned against him, but he’s never used the power of the federal government to punish journalists. The closest he’s come, one might argue, is temporarily revoking Jim Acosta’s White House press pass, which was certainly warranted due to his childlike, attention-seeking antics in refusing to surrender his microphone after asking several questions and grandstanding for political effect.
FDR, on the other hand, famously used the power of the federal government to strongarm newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. A one-time supporter of Roosevelt in 1932, Randolph had “turned against his ally,” leading FDR to instruct the “Treasury Department to closely monitor Hearst’s taxes,” according to David Beito of Reason.com.
It’s convenient for the left to occasionally ignore this sort of activity, obviously. After all, the leftist media chose to ignore Barack Obama’s secret monitoring of phone call records of New York Times, AP, and Fox News reporters and exclusion of Fox News from conference calls available to other media, among other abuses. (But “not a whisper of a scandal” in the Obama years, says Joe Biden.)
On the contrary, Trump’s used his executive authority to do no such thing to his political opponents. Yet, somehow, Trump is the real threat to the First Amendment?
Journalists like Olivier Knox pretending that there’s any realistic possibility that they could be jailed or prevented from reentering the country by this president for having said nasty things about him is worse than an honest fear or fantasy. It’s nothing more than a comical effort to earn a badge of heroism from his media colleagues on the cheap. Firstly, there is nothing more fashionable in the broad media circles than criticizing President Trump. Secondly, the possibility that President Trump might abuse his power in any such way is nothing more than a phantom threat that Knox’s kid might believe, but few others would.
But with some other presidents in American history, such a threat might have been very real.
In 1917, Woodrow Wilson “warned that those who were disloyal had given up their civil liberties,” and would face “stern repression.” He used an executive order to create “a new federal agency that would put the government in the business of actively shaping press coverage,” called the Committee on Public Information (CPI). The Committee recruited 75,000 “Four-Minute Men” for their skills in propagandizing Wilson’s agenda in speeches, and it produced newsreels rallying support for the war. It produced “guidelines” for U.S. newspapers for “patriotic” newspaper editors to follow, and actually published a daily “Official Bulletin,” which some view as the “closest the United States has come to a paper like the Soviet Union’s Pravda.” Even outside the government press, the CPI publications appeared, at taxpayer expense, in “20,000 newspaper columns each week,” effectively burying the private press beneath mountains of government propaganda.
The Wilson administration’s most famous action against the free press was the Espionage Act of 1917, under which 2,000 people were charged during WWI, and jailed many members of the press.
Interestingly enough, it was under the auspices of the Espionage Act that President Obama cracked down on journalists “more than any other administration since Woodrow Wilson,” according to Michael Barone at the Washington Examiner in 2013. He cites 20-year veteran of The New York Times, David Sanger, as having called the Obama administration “the most closed, control-freak administration” he’d ever witnessed.
And yet, the same leftist media mouthpieces claiming that Trump is some monumental threat to press freedom were oddly silent during Obama’s presidency while all of that was going on.
Members of the media today suggesting that Donald Trump represents some uniquely dangerous presidential threat to our free press are either in desperate need of education, or they knowingly lack an interest in truth. And all of the evidence suggests the latter, and that they are willing to sell lies in order to claim some specious mantle of victimhood.
William Sullivan blogs at Political Palaver and can be followed on Twitter.