This op-ed was originally published for Appen Media Group.
July 12, 2017
On June 29, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated, “The President, in no way, form or fashion, has ever promoted or encouraged violence.” Three days later, Donald Trump tweeted an edited video of himself beating up a person who had a CNN logo superimposed on his head, captioning the tweet “FraudNewsCNN #FNN.”
As an aspiring journalist, I’m more than slightly upset by the President of the United States promoting violence against members of the press. As an American, I’m disturbed by the fact that the leader of the free world so shamelessly and unapologetically attacked freedoms granted by the First Amendment.
A free press can, at times, understandably be an annoyance to the subjects of stories. However, it exists to inform the public about the daily and even hourly matters of the world around it —including the government.
The American people are allowed to form their own opinions, then vote for representatives they feel most identify with their beliefs. The free press is the vehicle for transparency between the government and the governed, ensuring that the government is truly run by the people.
No matter what political party you affiliate with, I think we can agree that the American government should serve to protect the rights guaranteed to all citizens through the Constitution and Bill of Rights. And as the leader of the country, the president should reiterate the importance of upholding and promoting these rights, not denounce them.
When someone in as high a position as Trump attacks journalists for doing their jobs, and in a way that incites violence against them, journalists’ jobs become more dangerous. When the president consistently attacks journalists, it becomes normal for anyone else to do so — both physically and verbally, as when U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte body slammed a reporter in May.
The normalization of violence against journalists discourages them from doing their jobs, because it makes it easier for sources to limit public information given to journalists. It also discourages aspiring journalists from going into the field. This, in turn, does a disservice to the American people by blocking their access to information on governmental matters.
Huckabee Sanders said, “I think the president is pushing back against people who attack him day after day after day. Where’s the outrage on that?”
The problem with this argument is that journalists are legally free to report on what the president does. Any citizen is guaranteed the right to freely state his or her opinion about what the president does.
Because Trump is, at the end of the day, also simply an American citizen, he can state his opinions.
But he was also elected to represent every American — including his supporters, challengers and watchdogs. When he attacks journalists, he fails to protect the rights of all American citizens. Rather than commend violence against citizens, the president should use reporting done by journalists to improve his own performance.