So much of what is happening in America lately is, to put it simply, unfathomable. Many actions may seem appropriate for an earlier time period, but are strikingly out of place in the “modern democracy” of the United States (quotation marks seem necessary). I could reference about any number of topics, from the growing evidence that Trump tried to stop FBI investigations into ties to Russia to his expansion of a policy he revoked early in his presidency to give U.S. aid to abortion providers across the world. I want to focus, though, on something close to my heart: the treatment of journalists under Trump’s administration.
In the aftermath of the explosive New York Times report that Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating his also-former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, another appalling tidbit was lost in the chaos. Trump suggested that Comey “Consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information,” writes Michael Schmidt.
This remark is startling at best and deeply troubling at worst. It is reminiscent of authoritarian governments and starkly un-American values. It is also, sadly, not a surprise coming from Trump, who has displayed malice towards journalists at every step of his path to the presidency.
Now, in the Oval Office, he still can’t see that journalists are an essential part of a democracy. I mean, it’s probably hard for him to see this, considering the impact of journalism on his reputation. Just this week, outstanding reporting from journalists at the Washington Post and The New York Times brought quick and serious implications; from calculated throwing around of the word “impeachment” — from both political sides — to the worst day in the stock market since Sept. 2016.
Interestingly, as Politico reporter Josh Dawsey noted on Twitter, Schmidt, the journalist who wrote about Trump asking Comey to stop investigating Flynn, was the same journalist who first broke the story about Hillary Clinton’s private email server. So was Schmidt “out to get” Trump? Or did he simply use the same journalistic rigour he applied to a story about Clinton to write a story about Trump?
As a journalism student, I am inspired by the persistence of journalists who cover Trump. They are up against serious odds — barred from press briefings, not invited to meetings with foreign officials, for example — and often have to decipher fact from fiction when White House officials blatantly lie (this is not to say that there haven’t been problems with media coverage of Trump, because there have). Journalists keep going, though, because what they do is important. The public has a right to know what is happening in their government, and journalists fulfill this critical role of gathering and communicating information.
Trump’s treatment of journalists both on the campaign trail and as President is unacceptable. But it is also unlikely to change. As the newly-appointed special prosecutor begins his investigations, I can only see journalists rightly continuing to cover Trump. But, sadly, I can only see Trump continuing to berate and belittle journalists in return.