A dictator's greatest enemy is free speech; free speech inspires dialogue, which leads to understanding and the truth, which in turn fosters alliances that can ultimately lead to powerful change.
An independent and free press is a crucial branch of free speech, that is why it is often one of the first things an authoritarian head of state will seek to suffocate.
Noted American professor, political commentator, author, and public servant Robert Reich made a list of four things tyrants do to take control of a democracy's press. President Donald Trump routinely uses all four, but in a Friday Twitter tirade he focused on one tactic in particular, which happens to be No. 2 on Reich's list: Limit media access.
The Fake Media is working overtime today!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
...Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future "press briefings" and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Per usual, Trump is blaming the chaos of his administration on what he seems to view as the bane of his presidency: the "fake news." However, as a person who appears to have little understanding or interest in the democratic way of doing things, he does not realize that the media is supposed to be a thorn in the president's foot.
The word media comes from the word "medium," which developed over time to mean an intervening agency. Our media is supposed to be a link between the government and its people, a translator and intermediary. It is critical that the press remain free and independent from the state because, in a democracy, it is the responsibility of journalists to hold the government accountable and keep the people informed.
In the words of Jeff Mason, the president of the White House Correspondents' Association:
White House Correspondents' Association statement on press briefings. pic.twitter.com/qAzrzehENL— Jeff Mason (@jeffmason1) May 12, 2017
The White House has tried to cut off media access before. In the early days of his presidency, Trump tried to freeze out mainstream media mega-weight CNN and banned other high-profile news agencies from a press briefing. He has repeatedly lashed out at news organizations that report him in an (honest) unflattering light, and officials in his administration have promised to "fight back tooth and nail" against what they deem "fake news." The president has also mused over the idea of loosening libel laws to make it easier for the government to sue media outlets and win.
When Trump threatens the press, he threatens the American people. Whatever issues anyone may have with certain aspects of journalism and our mainstream media, we must recognize that they are crucial to our democratic citizenship and a key part of "the Land of the Free." If our press is not free, neither are we. If they cannot access our government, then we are led blind.