Trump's CNN Freeze-Out Threatens Press Freedom

Posted by Todd O'Boyle on February 3, 2017


Media and democracy thumbnail for issue buckets

“In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”

– Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, New York Times Company v. United States, 1971 

America’s Framers understood that an adversarial press is foundational to self-governance. Voters rely on an independent press that asks tough questions, holds power accountable, and delivers timely reporting.

Which is why it’s so concerning to see President Trump selectively discriminating against press outlets which challenge him and verbally assaulting reporters whose stories displease him. Media organizations and individual journalists should not live in fear that doing their jobs will cost them access to sources or place them in danger.

Every President has had differences with the press, whether over an outlet’s coverage or framing or because journalists – like everyone else – sometimes publish inaccurate or misleading reports. But President Trump’s recent attacks on journalists and their work have gone much farther than those of his recent predecessors.

Trump has termed CNN “fake news” and forbidden his administration’s spokespeople from appearing on the network. His top political strategist has admonished reporters to “shut up” and his communications guru has chided those who refuse to accept “alternative facts” peddled by his press secretary.

All this is calculated to have a chilling effect on the freedom of the press. Denying CNN access sends a message to reporters from other networks and newspapers that doing their jobs ably may come at a high cost. It discourages journalists from pressing the administration for the truth and encourages them to treat Trump & Co. with kid gloves.

What’s worse, CNN, which should be an independent news agency, has become a political football in AT&T’s quest to buy the Time Warner media empire. Common Cause opposes that merger because mega-consolidations harm consumers, competition, and the public interest -- in other words, for reasons grounded in the law.

Mr. Trump has signaled he may want to block the merger because CNN has not covered him “fairly” (according to him). Already, the business press is speculating that Time Warner might have to spin off CNN to win approval for its merger.

The fate of this merger – indeed any merger – should be decided on the facts and the law, not political whim. Editors should never have to fear that fairly covering the powerful will cost them their business.

The President must make clear that journalists will not face reprisal for doing their jobs, and their employers will be treated in accordance with the law. 

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Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Media and Democracy

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