This morning, President Trump tweeted a furious response to a New York Times report that found he attempted to have a prosecutor loyal to his administration take charge of the investigation into hush-money payments.
“The New York Times reporting is false. They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” Trump tweeted.
A few hours later, New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger responded, saying, “In demonizing the free press as the enemy, simply for performing its role of asking difficult questions and bringing uncomfortable information to light, President Trump is retreating from a distinctly American principle.”
Indeed, the freedom of the press is legally protected by the First Amendment, which is intended to prevent the government from interfering with the reporting of information or opinion.
Trump has often accused the media of being an “enemy of the people.” In 2017, it was Senator John McCain who spoke against this dangerous rhetoric, pointing out that attacking and attempting to suppress the free press was “how dictators get started.”
“I hate the press,” McCain said. “But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It is vital.”
“If you want to preserve – I’m very serious now – if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press.”
Now, Sulzberger repeats those sentiments.
The phrase “enemy of the people” is not just false, it’s dangerous. It has an ugly history of being wielded by dictators and tyrants who sought to control public information. And it is particularly reckless coming from someone whose office gives him broad powers to fight or imprison the nation’s enemies. As I have repeatedly told President Trump face to face, there are mounting signs that this incendiary rhetoric is encouraging threats and violence against journalists at home and abroad.
One need only look to Trump’s own campaign rallies to see the truth of that. Just last week, a BBC cameraperson was attacked at a campaign rally held in support of Donald Trump. According to BBC Washington news editor Elanor Montague, the crowd had been “whipped up into a frenzy against the media” by Trump and other speakers throughout the night.
Just attended my first @realDonaldTrump rally where my colleague BBC cameraman Rob Skeans was attacked by a Trump supporter. The crowd had been whipped up into a frenzy against the media by Trump and other speakers all night #TrumpElPaso pic.twitter.com/Oiw8osPms3
— Eleanor Montague (@EleanorMontague) February 12, 2019
As President, Donald Trump took an oath to defend the Constitution. But he can’t seem to get on board with the First Amendment.