In the first 72 hours since the 45th President of the United States took his oath of office, his administration has executed a coordinated attack on the media and demonstrated a clear disregard for facts.
“It is clear that Trump views the media as his number one enemy and is taking every single opportunity to try to weaken their credibility, says Margaux Ewen, Advocacy and Communications Director for RSF North America. Any reporting he deems unfavorable to him, any reporting that does not jibe with his administration’s message of self-aggrandizement, is called false and irresponsible. RSF reminds Trump’s administration that the press does not provide public relations for the President, but reports the truth in order to hold government officials accountable, despite statements to the contrary from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. What’s equally alarming is the repeated lies that Spicer and Trump’s advisors are feeding to the press, despite irrefutable photographic evidence to the contrary.”
On Saturday, President Trump made use of his first full day in office vigorously attacking the media, referring to them as “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” during a speech he made at C.I.A. headquarters.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer towed the same line at his first press conference since the inauguration, harshly scolding journalists for “deliberately false reporting” regarding the presence of a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. in the oval office and the size of inauguration crowds. He claimed “photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the national mall.” He then falsely claimed “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration period. Both in person and around the globe.” He proceeded to make several other false statements during the press conference and proclaimed that the media’s “attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong...We’re gonna hold the press accountable.” Spicer then refused to take any questions from reporters.
Yesterday, during an interview with CNN’s Chuck Todd, Senior Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway claimed that Spicer had presented “alternative facts” and after being pressed to answer Todd’s question on why Spicer repeatedly stated falsehoods at Saturday’s press conference Conway said that the Trump administration might have to “rethink their relationship” with the press.
“In fact, the simultaneous attacks on the press for so called ‘inaccurate’ reporting and the use of what the administration calls ‘alternative facts’ to counter this reporting are reminiscent of an authoritarian government’s tactics, says Delphine Halgand, Director of RSF North America. The press freedom predators of the world are watching Trump and taking notes. It’s terrifying to think how much more brazen they will be in their attacks on journalists around the world now that the leader of the United States of America is setting a terrible example.”
On Inauguration day, the U.S. Department of the Interior was banned from Twitter after its account retweeted photographs comparing this year’s inauguration attendance with that of Obama’s 2009 inauguration.
In a statement from Jeffrey Ballou, President of the National Press Club, it was alleged that several credentialed reporters were denied access to cover inaugural events. RSF is aware of one such incident which barred CNN from covering the Deploraball on the eve of Inauguration.
As riots broke out in Washington, DC on Inauguration day, Washington Post video reporter Dalton Bennett was thrown to the ground by police while covering the arrests of dozens of anti-Trump protesters and rioters. AJC photographer Hyosub Shin was pepper sprayed in the face while covering the same riots in DC. Three journalists were arrested along with rioters and protestors: Alexander Rubinstein from RT America, Evan Engel for Vocativ, and Aaron Cantu, a freelance journalist who has written for Al Jazeera, among other outlets. They have since been charged with participating in a riot and could face up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The Guardian has reported that a documentary producer and 2 other journalists arrested while covering these events face the same charges.
On January 27, a spokesperson from the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia told RSF that felony riot charges against Engel had been dismissed. On January 30, the same charges were also dismissed against Rubinstein and two other journalists.
The US currently ranks 41 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.
Image credit: NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP