December 12, 2017

US — #WeeklyAddress November 27 – December 3: Trump crusades against media on twitter

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of November 27 – December 3:

Trump’s week of attacking the press on Twitter

This week, President Trump took to Twitter to levy attacks against the integrity of various news outlets, from targeting journalists individually to calling for retribution for what he views as “fake news.” This week’s attacks once again made clear the global impact of Trump’s tweets against the media when authority figures from both Britain and Libya mimicked his anti-media rhetoric in order to recuse themselves of culpability of wrongdoing.

Following the November 15 release of a CNN report detailing slave auctions conducted in Libya, Libyan authorities cited Trump’s earlier tweets bashing CNN as evidence of the network’s alleged bias, saying “Here the possibility arises that the channel has published the report of slavery in Libya to secure an as yet hidden political objective.” Trump’s attacks on media outlets also encouraged extremist groups to threaten journalists on twitter. Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of far-right British nationalist group Britain First, replied to Trump’s tweet and threatened NYT reporters for attempting to question her after the President re-tweeted misleading anti-Muslim videos from Fransen’s account.

Following this trend, President Trump once again attacked CNN after it announced that it would boycott the annual White House Christmas party in response to the President’s repeated attacks.

On Wednesday, November 30, President Trump tweeted his disdain for the New York Times following controversy over the Times’ editorial board tweeting their criticisms of the President’s tax plan on the paper’s opinion Twitter account.

The Social Media Guidelines the President referenced cautions reporters to “take extra care to avoid expressing partisan opinions or editorializing on issues that The Times is covering.” However, the New York Times argued that those guidelines do not apply to the NYT’s Opinion section, which they consider separate from the newsroom.

Over the weekend, President Trump went on Twitter to attack news outlets for “Fake News,” following the suspension of ABC News correspondent Brian Ross for an erroneous report.

ABC correspondent Brian Ross reported on Friday, December 1, that then-candidate Donald Trump directed Mike Flynn to initiate contact with Russian government officials. Later that day, ABC issued a correction, clarifying that the request was made during the transitional period, when Trump was President elect, regarding tactics to fight ISIS in Syria. Ross was suspended for four weeks without pay, and ABC issued an apology for the error.

President Trump addressed news that NBC anchor Matt Lauer was fired over sexual harassment complaints on Tuesday, November 29. He then suggested that MSNBC co-host Joe Scarborough was involved in the 2001 death of a female intern, which has already been ruled a natural death.

On Monday, November 27, President Trump suggested that the United States should hand out a “fake news trophy” to the network he perceived to be most dishonest:

By targeting specific news outlets such as CNN and NYT and accusing them of bias, President Trump continues to blur the divide between critical news coverage and partisan media.

Fox News photojournalists assaulted by Roy Moore staffers

A Fox News camera crew was assaulted by members of Roy Moore’s campaign staff after they attempted to get a shot of the Senate candidate arriving at a rally in Henagar, Alabama on Monday, November 27. Fox News correspondent Jonathan Serrie reported that their crew was told Moore would be entering the rally through the front entrance. When they were informed that Moore was entering through a side entrance, the camera crew rushed over to record the candidate. Serrie reported that two men, identified as Moore staffers, pushed and shoved two unidentified Fox News photojournalists in an altercation caught on camera. The identities of the photojournalists have yet to be released. Bill Armistead, campaign chairman for Roy Moore, issued a statement condemning the assault, but also accused the media of harassment and “inappropriate behavior.” This attack on Fox News photojournalists is not new; attacks against members of the media as a result of President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric have increased over the past year. One such incident occurred in May, a day before Montana’s special congressional election, when then-Republican candidate Greg Gianforte body-slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for asking a question about Republican-led health-care reform.

Washington Post exposes undercover operation meant to discredit the newspaper

The Washington Post published a story on November 27 detailing an incident in which Project Veritas sent an agent to pose as a victim in efforts to discredit their reports on sexual harassment and assault against Senate candidate Roy Moore. Project Veritas is a tax-exempt charity which often conducts undercover operations that target mainstream media organizations in order to expose “media bias.” They have previously conducted covert operations attempting to expose the Washington Post’s bias against Donald Trump and his alleged involvement with Russian officials. Jaime Phillips, the undercover agent, told Washington Post reporters that Roy Moore initiated a sexual relationship with her when she was 15, and became combative when confronted about inconsistencies in her story. Although Phillips requested her statement be considered off-the-record, Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron said “this so-called off-the-record conversation was the essence of a scheme to deceive and embarrass us. The intent by Project Veritas clearly was to publicize the conversation if we fell for the trap. Because of our customary journalistic rigor, we weren’t fooled, and we can’t honor an ‘off-the-record’ agreement that was solicited in maliciously bad faith.”

Walmart pulls T-shirt encouraging violence against journalists

On Thursday November 30, retailer Walmart decided to pull from its stores a t-shirt design following complaints from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) that it “openly encourage[s] violence targeting journalists.” The design in question was sold by Teespring, a third-party seller, and said “Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.” On Friday, December 1, Teespring followed suit and pulled the t-shirt design from their website. The design had previously appeared during the 2016 presidential election, as a clothing item worn at certain campaign rallies, including President Trump’s rallies. His campaign events often featured harsh anti-press rhetoric, including referring to the media repeatedly as “dishonest” and “sleazebags” to saying "I would never kill them, but I do hate them. And some of them are such lying, disgusting people. It's true.”

The United States ranks 43rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index after falling 2 places in the last year.

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