The Washington Post editorial board made it very clear that attacks on the free press can grow well beyond insults and snubs when the forces of dictatorial power are behind them.
It’s certainly no secret that Donald Trump doesn’t think highly of the free press, with the exception of his favorite propaganda network, Fox News.
Trump’s constant bleating about “fake news” has at times become a punchline. But as the editorial board at the Washington Post makes very clear, that kind of undermining attack on journalists is no laughing matter when it is perpetuated by violent dictators who are even less concerned with basic human decency than Trump is.
“The next time someone jokes about ‘fake news,’ stop them in their tracks and remind them that a record number of journalists around the world sit behind bars today for the crime of seeking the truth,” the editors note gravely.
The Post cites the most recent annual survey from the Committee to Protect Journalists, which reveals that 262 journalists are currently imprisoned around the world on charges related to their work.
And the worst offender is a man Trump holds in high esteem.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been on the attack against journalists for some time, and there are currently at least 73 held in prison, many on baseless charges of terrorism for simply doing their work. And his blatant violations of human rights goes well beyond that.
But to Trump, Erodgan is a “dear friend,” with whom it was a “great honor” to meet. And he congratulated Erodgan for his authoritarian power grab, whereby he could retain his sweeping new powers in Turkey’s government until at least 2029.
And when Erdogan’s goons beat up protesters in the streets of Washington, D.C., during his visit, Trump actually apologized to Erdogan for the violence.
Trump’s ceaseless ranting about “fake news” has started to permeate the authoritarian air in countries around the world, and we are seeing what such a mindset can lead to when those who cling to it put the despotism to which Trump appears to aspire into deadly action.
“When journalists are arrested, it is often a sign of worse to come,” the Post notes. “[And] journalists everywhere are under increased threat because of rulers who take encouragement from Mr. Trump’s malice.”
The press is still free in the United States, despite Trump’s best efforts.
But his toxic attacks on the very profession of journalism, and on anyone who does it in a way he doesn’t like, will only get worse the longer he is in office and the worse things look for the fate of his presidency.