On Christmas Eve, the president retweeted a meme that pictured him sitting in a towncar, legs crossed, with a blood stain and “CNN” on the sole of his shoe. His caption read, “Winning.” Like all of his other attacks on the media since taking over the White House, Trump’s jokes about “squashing” the press are seriously unfunny. This is not the first time the president has done something so inappropriate. Earlier this year, Trump retweeted an edited video of himself body-slamming a man with “CNN” over his head into the ground, then walking away. In speeches and tweets, he constantly rails against the media and “fake news,” with particular disdain for CNN.
The obvious problem with these attacks? Delegitimizing the press is something dictators and despots do in order to maintain their power. It’s serious.
Not to sound too alarmist, but Trump does have some definite dictator qualities. His refusal to accept some foundational things about democracy and freedoms of speech and the press are pretty alarming. It’s like Trump skipped civics class in forth grade. He really struggles with core concepts like how Congress is supposed to vote in the interests of its constituents and not take orders from the party leaders, that all branches of government are subject to checks and balances, and that journalists, whatever you make think of them, have the freedom to report on what’s going on in the capitol, whether the president likes it or not.
Not all of these systems work well all the time, but they’re there. Instead of trashing them, it’s a leader’s job to encourage them to be better.
Back in February, even Arizona Sen. John McCain, was worried about Trump’s criticisms of the media. He told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, jokingly, “I hate the press. I hate you especially. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital.” He added:
Even when Trump tweets that a news story is “fake news,” he’s slowly chipping away at the credibility of the news media, which, for all of its flaws, does most often just want to get a good story. It’s not that the media has it out for Trump. It’s just that there is so much scandal surrounding this administration that it’s impossible for major networks and cable news channels to avoid talking about him 24 hours a day. Believe us, if there were a better and more important story than the goings-on in the White House and all of the insane things Trump has done (or tried to do), the media would be all over it. It’s not CNN’s fault that there’s so much controversy and conversation fodder for their panels to talk about.
What’s so sad about Trump’s hatred of “fake” news is that Fox News, which was named the most influential because he actually watches it, is notoriously idealogical and *factually* wrong. The obvious truth is that Trump likes Fox News because they are sympathetic to him, whereas the other networks and newspapers run pieces that are critical of Trump, or point out flaws, and make at least an attempt at actual reporting when covering his policies and team.
The fact is, the media and journalists move way too fast and make mistakes because they’re human beings. Corrections used to be a normal thing that every newspaper included on their editorial page, every single morning. It’s scary now when journalists make mistakes these days, since not only do they have to retract errors like they normally would, but Trump will make sure all of his supporters (who aren’t known for being very critical of their news sources) hears that it was “fake news,” perpetuating this terrible, terrible myth.
But even if you don’t care about the freedom of the press or have faith in its credibility — and there are a lot of good criticisms to be made of the state of journalism these days — Trump’s violent CNN tweets are problematic for a whole host of other reasons.
The main problem with these tweets is simply that they’re violent AF. For a guy who started, waged, and allegedly “won” a fictional war on Christmas, his holiday spirit was way, way off. A picture of a guy with blood, that’s supposed to symbolize a news network, on his shoe is pretty scary. So is the idea that he wants to body slam one. What’s next? Pictures of specific journalists in these memes? Trump must not understand how dangerous his “jokes” are.
There are places all over the world — and in countries that Trump uses as examples of “bad” in his speeches — where journalists are murdered or imprisoned for criticizing politics or ruling powers. Overall, 42 journalists died this year all over the world. Some of them because they were in dangerous war zones, like in Syria. Others, in places like Mexico and Malta, were straight-up murdered for doing their jobs.
While we might be a far way off from Donald Trump Jr. kidnapping a CNN journalist, what’s more likely, given the precedent the president has already set, is civilian violence. During the campaign, Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who is now a Fox News host, was charged with simple battery for attacking a reporter at a campaign rally.
Two Trump supporters and white supremacists are actually trying to get out of a charge for attacking a counter protestor at a rally by claiming that Trump made them do it, or that he incited violence during the campaign. It’s not like you have to put a tin foil hat on to think that one of his followers could do something violent to a journalist. He can’t stop people from creating and sharing memes saying whatever they want, but Trump doesn’t have to endorse violent sentiments on his Twitter timeline. Right now, it just seems irresponsible and mean. But it’s not very far away from people actually body slamming or hurting members of the press.
It’s fine — healthy, even — to criticize the press when they mess up or do their job incorrectly. But it’s not okay to run a smear campaign with violent implications against the only institution that’s dedicated to questioning power in our country.