The U.S. President Continues His War on the Free Press

Donald Trump has been waging a war on the press since virtually the moment he announced his candidacy in July 2015.

In the first year of his campaign, Trump made "incredible personal attacks on members of the press, openly mocking disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski; saying Fox debate moderator Megyn Kelly had 'blood coming out of her wherever'; ginning up outrage against the press at campaign events; and launching an all-out jeremiad against the media during a press conference, during which he called the press 'sleazy' and 'unbelievably dishonest.'"

He defended his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was accused of physically assaulting a female reporter, in addition to having allegedly "pushing a CNN reporter who tried to ask the candidate a question; physically confronting an aide for a rival campaign in a post-debate spin room; publicly shouting threats over the phone at a restaurant; making sexual comments about female journalists; and calling up women in the campaign press corps late at night to make unwanted romantic advances."

Further, Trump blocked news organizations from his campaign events, revoking the press credentials of established institutions like the Washington Post, because he didn't like their coverage.

This was all before he started screaming "Fake news!" and elevating his war on the press to dangerous levels, as part of a demonstrable pattern Aphra Behn comprehensively documented.

The press is not above criticism. But Donald Trump's war on the free press is not "criticism." It is a sustained campaign to discredit reputable media institutions; to elevate propagandists; to intimidate individual reporters; to silence critics; and to make himself the arbiter of what constitutes "the truth."

This is a chapter right out of the authoritarian's playbook.

And he continued his assault on the press this morning, with a pair of tweets reading:

1. "The Fake News Networks, those that knowingly have a sick and biased AGENDA, are worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast. The 'Fakers' at CNN, NBC, ABC & CBS have done so much dishonest reporting that they should only be allowed to get awards for fiction!"

2. "Check out the fact that you can't get a job at ratings challenged @CNN unless you state that you are totally anti-Trump? Little Jeff Zuker [sic], whose job is in jeopardy, is not having much fun lately. They should clean up and strengthen CNN and get back to honest reporting!"

These follow on the heels of another tweet yesterday in which he also attacked the free press in defense of Sinclar Media: "So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke."

Trump's defense of Sinclair Broadcast Group — an influential (anti-)media company which essentially functions as a propaganda outfit for the Trump administration, per a deal struck by Jared Kushner — came on the heels of Deadspin video editor Timothy Burke compiling a striking video showing dozens of local anchors across the nation being forced to read a script issued by Sinclair about "the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country."

[Transcript of Sinclair script being read available at Deadspin.]

So, Trump spent his morning defending his propaganda arm and attacking the free press, despite the fact that the political media continues broadly to broadcast empty podiums awaiting Trump's presence and failing to even identify Trump's authoritarianism for what it is — and note well that his attacks are designed to make sure they continue to fail in precisely the same way.

Meanwhile, he simultaneously continues to wage a very singular war on Amazon, ostensibly because Amazon is bad for other U.S. businesses, but in reality because Amazon's owner Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post.

Trump is reportedly "discussing ways to escalate his Twitter attacks on Amazon to further damage the company." According to Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman, one source told him that Trump is "off the hook on this. It's war." And another source told him: "He gets obsessed with something, and now he's obsessed with Bezos. Trump is like, how can I fuck with him?"

That is wildly unethical, to put it mildly.

And my question at this point remains: Why does a significant portion of the political press continue to indulge, abet, and enable Trump in so many ways, when he has naught but contempt for them? Even the usual explanation of "profit$" doesn't make any sense, given that Trump has now repeatedly signaled he will try to fuck with the earning potential of any media company — or affiliated brand, e.g. Amazon — that he doesn't like. And he often succeeds, having driven down Amazon's shares by 5 percent yesterday.

I'm afraid the explanation is far more chilling: The disproportionately white, male, conservative political media has, in large part, no desire to impede Trump's authoritarian bid nor hold truly hold him accountable. No matter how hard he comes for them.

Which means he is even more unlikely to halt his assault on what remnants of a free press remain.

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