2018-08-16 / Opinion

Enemy of the People: ‘Shush! It Could Get Worse’


In this week’s edition, Newport This Week participated in a coordinated response to President Trump’s declaration that “the media is the enemy of the American people,” initiated by The Boston Globe. Papers across the country will publish their own editorials on the topic this week, committed to making a statement in defense of a free press. Our Rhode Island Press Association president, James Bessette, encouraged us to participate.

“Fake news,” according to Trump, is the basis for his repeated claim that the media is the enemy of the people (though he excludes Fox News, his stalwart supporter).

Vox’s senior reporter Dara Lind said, in her column of May 9, 2018, “It’s nice of Trump to admit, explicitly, what many skeptics have suspected all along: when he complains about ‘fake news,’ he doesn’t actually mean ‘news that is untrue;’ he means news that is personally inconvenient to Donald Trump.”

And Trump does admit it, writing in a tweet on May 9: “The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?”

Who else has attacked the media in order to assure that he is seen in the same light that he sees himself, accusing it of falsehood, so it will be invalidated by the time it becomes necessary for society to trust what’s being reported? Trump finds himself in renowned company.

In “Flake Compares Trump's Treatment of Press to Stalin's” (Politico, Jan. 14, 2018), Brent Griffiths writes, “Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Sunday that President Donald Trump's declaration that media is ‘the enemy of the people’ is a throwback to Josef Stalin that should have no place in political discourse. ‘I'm saying he borrowed that phrase,’ Flake told MSNBC's Kasie Hunt of Trump's choice of words. ‘It was popularized by Josef Stalin, used by Mao as well — enemy of the people.’”

Trump’s attempts to nullify the media don’t stop at calling it “fake.” Recently, Trump Tweeted, “The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it’s TRUE. I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. They purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous and sick!”

“Dangerous and sick and causing war…” said Erin Burnett on her CNN show, “Out Front.” “Obviously it’s very unclear what the President of the United States could be referring to.”

It’s unclear to us, too, as those of us not engaged in perpetrating fake news, which most agree is deliberately spreading misinformation or hoaxes disguised as legitimate news, spend our lives speaking truth to power – our First Amendment right to free expression and a free press – and arming our readers with facts, which seems antithetical to causing “distrust.”

In countries outside the U.S., where there may not be a commitment to maintaining a free press, or even worse, where they prohibit it, perhaps Trump would be right that the media is “the enemy of the people.” Take the case of the young Serbian journalism student, Igor Ispanovic, who visited our newsroom this week.

“Government controls everything,” he told us. If you try to expose corruption, “You won’t get the response you are looking for. People are afraid and they become indifferent of what’s around them. There is a saying in Serbia, ‘Shush! It could get worse.’”

And indeed, for those of us in the U.S., it has, as Trump’s expressions grow “freer” and the media’s are threatened.

“That’s just how he talks,” his supporters say when he degrades and demoralizes Mexicans, African Americans, women, Muslims, immigrants, the developmentally disabled and calls developing countries “sh**hole countries.”

“Boy talk,” Melania Trump says in defense of Trump’s bragging about what he can “do” to women.

“He calls lots of people dogs,” say pro-Trump pundits about his labeling of his African-American former staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman a “dog” when she shares a tape with the media that implicates him.

For our last word on Trump’s attempt to silence the media, to stamp out truth – for myriad reasons that seem anything but presidential – we travel back to another time and another part of the world and another leader (sic), whose collected speeches, “My New Order,” Vanity Fair reported in March 2016, can be found in the cabinet by Trump’s bed and in a closet in his office. Could this be a clue into his campaign to vanquish our right to a free press and to a possible belief he holds that we will comply?

“How fortunate for governments,” Adolf Hitler said, “that the people they administer don't think.”

P. Udoma

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