Donald Trump's campaign of intimidation against the free press has taken on added dimension and import since his Russia-enabled unpopular installation last week. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway escalated that campaign again by calling for mass firings of reporters, bloggers, and commentators whose coverage she does not like.
On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked White House counselor Kellyanne Conway about Donald Trump Chief Strategist and white nationalist Steve Bannon's suggestion that the media "keep its mouth shut." After complaining about media outlets reporting on her absurd characterization of lies as "alternative facts," Conway took Bannon's notion a good deal further by calling for mass firings.
Unnervingly, she even told Wallace that the White House is taking names:
CONWAY: Who is cleaning house? Which one is going to be the first network to get rid of these people who said things that were just not true? Talk about fake news, talk about alternative facts. What happened last week? I went on three network Sunday shows, I spoke for 35 minutes on three network Sunday shows. You know what got picked? The fact that I said "alternative facts," not the fact that I ripped a new one to some of those hosts for never covering the facts that matter to America's women: The 16.1 million women in poverty as we sit here, the 12.4 million women who have no health insurance. Everybody should feel outraged. The billions of dollars we have spent as a nation on public education, only to have millions of kids trapped in schools that fail them, and never really promote and protect their intelligence and prepare them for the world as they all deserve. They shouldn't be restricted by the zip code where they live. They should be lifted up.
This has all been a colossal failure, and nobody wants to talk about that. They want to talk about — it's always zing, it's always playing gotcha. There's no question that, when you look at the contributions made by the media, money contributions, they went to Hillary Clinton. We have all the headlines. People should feel embarrassed. Not one network person has been let go. Not one silly political analyst and pundit who talked smack all day long about Donald Trump has been let go. They're on panels every Sunday, they are on cable news every day. Who is the first editorial writer, where is the first blogger that will be let go that embarrassed his or her outlets? We know all their names. I'm too polite to call them out by name, but they know who they are, and they're all wondering "Will I be the first to go?"
Behind the multiple lies that Conway told in just this short clip, and the fact that Trump and his proposed cabinet will worsen all of the problems Conway wants people to be outraged about (we are outraged at the gutting of public education and health care, and the cruel burdens Trump wants to place on low and middle income Americans), is a bold and disturbing subtext that is playing out in plain sight.
Conway begins by saying she wants people to be fired for saying things that are not true, but then goes on to name only things that are true. She is upset with Chuck Todd (whom she openly threatened in the same interview) for calling her out on "alternative facts," and with editorial writers and commentators who "talked smack" about Trump, and she wants them to be fired. She is not just threatening people for engaging in protected speech, but for engaging in essential speech.
At the same time Conway was on Fox News Sunday pressuring media outlets to fire people, the White House applied the same sort of pressure in its own way, sending White House officials to every Sunday show except CNN's State of the Union, despite an invitation. This is no accident, and it is ongoing: Out of the three major cable networks, CNN is the one that is seen as the most ostensibly objective, and therefore the most in need of marginalization in order to transform facts into matters of opinion.
Trump himself explicitly targeted another trusted journalistic institution Sunday morning, as well, outrageously suggesting that the paper be taken over and shuttered:
Somebody with aptitude and conviction should buy the FAKE NEWS and failing @nytimes and either run it correctly or let it fold with dignity!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2017
Politicians frequently complain about negative coverage — that goes with the territory. But when you wield the ultimate levers of power in our country, it is dangerous and terrifying to wield them, in fits of petulance and mendacity, against the free press that is the guardian of our democracy, and the free speech that is the foundation of all that this country is supposed to stand for and represent.
And if this administration is going to be so easily upset by any coverage that is not fawning and sycophantic, they are in for a rough four years.