President Donald Trump has many enemies of his own making, but none are as vile in his eyes as the media.
Journalists are the bane of his presidency, the scapegoats for his failures, and in his mind they have turned the American people against him. They hold him and his administration accountable, and therefore he'd love to lock them up.
A New York Times piece released on Tuesday shook the nation when it reported that former FBI Director James Comey had kept memos of his conversations with Trump, one revealing that the president had asked him to shut down his investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The memo also mentions something else Trump said in that same meeting that's been generally overlooked.
"Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media," reported the Times. "Saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates."
On Wednesday, a White House official told CNN that Comey's memo was incorrect, and that he had recalled the conversation inaccurately. The defense is a weak one, especially given Comey's profession and Trump's history.
The remark is disturbing coming from the man who is supposed to be the leader of the free world, however, it's not unique coming from Trump. He's threatened the media and the very idea of a free and independent press since his 2016 campaign, even going so far as to label the mainstream news "fake" and "the enemy of the American people."
He's pondered loosening libel laws to make it easier to sue journalists whose reporting doesn't favor him, and he recently suggested halting White House press briefings, a cornerstone of America's democracy.
These incidents are all nerve-racking on their own, but what is downright terrifying is that the world is full of examples of authoritarian politicians pulling off exactly what Trump is talking about.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rules with an small ego and iron fist, and journalists who criticize his government have been brought to court and sentenced to prison. One incident that received worldwide attention was what is known as the Oda TV case in which 13 Turkish citizens, 10 of whom were journalists, were forced through a lengthy trial just for doing their jobs. After six years of defending their innocence, they were recently acquitted.
Milos Zeman, president of the Czech Republic, even joked about "liquidating" journalists because there were too many.
These are not just violent words; journalism is a risky profession at its core, and journalists must sometimes put themselves at great risk for a story, including challenging those with incredible power. The International News Safety Institute found that 115 journalists around the world were killed in 2016, some in tragic accidents and others for speaking the truth no matter what.
So when Trump questions the merits of the First Amendment and how best to suppress a free press, we should not shrug it off and assume "that would never happen in America." It already is, and it will get much worse if we don't put a stop to it now.
Banner/thumbnail credit: Reuters