President Trump’s continuing and virtually pathological attacks against CNN, other nationally respected news organizations and the free press stain the American presidency and are similar to the behavior of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and other despots around the world.
It is alarming to witness a president of the United States, who often praises foreign dictators who abuse human rights, acting like those dictators by launching aggressive and hostile attacks on news organizations that are bulwarks of the free press.
Trump’s latest tirade against CNN is particularly venal and dangerous. When Trump attacks CNN and CNN International, among the finest and most respected international news organizations in the world, he is telling a timeless untruth and endangering some of the finest and most courageous journalists in the world.
I recently wrote in The Hill that the inspector general of the Department of Justice (DOJ) should formally investigate whether the DOJ was pressured by the president or his associates to oppose the merger between Time Warner and AT&T in retribution against CNN, which is currently owned by Time Warner.
Doing so would also be an attempt to intimidate other media owners and reporters into not reporting the full stories about the Trump presidency to the American people.
CNN International and other leading news organizations employ foreign correspondents whose courageous professionalism should make every American and believer in democracy proud. Their war correspondents literally risk their lives by taking their bodies and cameras into combat to report the conditions of war to the world.
Their diplomatic correspondents often face harassment and abuse from foreign dictators and their secret police.
The list of foreign correspondents of CNN and other news organizations who deserve standing ovations from a grateful nation is too long to list in a single column. Trump’s Putin-like attacks against them endangers their lives and gives aid and comfort to every dictator who treats reporters as enemies of the state.
.@FoxNews is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 25, 2017
Trump’s untruth is timeless because, throughout history, dictators, crooks and torturers have attacked journalists who have brought the truth to the people. If Trump’s untruths attacking the free press are proven to be an attempt to mislead citizens or obstruct investigations of Russia’s continuing attack against America, the legal consequences for Trump could be grave indeed.
With investigations of the Russian scandal involving great secrecy, it is a profound achievement that the justice and political reporting of CNN, NBC, CBS, The Washington Post, The New York Times and other outlets has been proven right so often and wrong so rarely.
It is shocking that while American authorities investigate the Russian attack against our democracy spearheaded by Putin, Trump refuses to acknowledge the existence of the attack, while imitating Putin’s contempt for a free press.
Those with power who fear the facts attack those in the free press who report those facts. Dictators who fear the power of the truth as reported in the news treat the free press as the enemy of the people, with words similar to those used by Trump today.
When Trump attacks leading news organizations, he is standing on the shoulders of liars and losers who have tried the same tactic before — and failed.
We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and not including Fox, is the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite President (me). They are all bad. Winner to receive the FAKE NEWS TROPHY!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2017
The discredited demagogue and former U.S. senator, Joseph McCarthy, who stained the Senate by attacking those he falsely labelled as communists, often attacked the free press and sometimes named individual reporters at rallies, a tactic adopted by Trump. McCarthy was censured by the Senate and left in disgrace.
Richard Nixon attacked the press, and the articles of impeachment against him cited his many false public statements as attempts to cover up his crimes and influence the investigations that revealed them. Facing impeachment, Nixon resigned.
Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, took attacks against the press to new lows and copped a plea to lesser crimes of corruption as he resigned from office in disgrace to meet his legal fate.
McCarthy’s great foe was Edward R. Murrow, the legendary CBS broadcaster who reported the truth and earned a high place in any free press hall of fame. Nixon’s great foe was the Washington Post, led by reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, a brilliant editor named Ben Bradlee and a courageous publisher named Katharine Graham, who reported the facts and changed the course of history.
Trump has modernized the seamy tactics of McCarthy, Nixon and Agnew. CNN and other media organizations that Trump attacks are modernizing the journalistic excellence of Murrow during the McCarthy years, and Woodward and Bernstein during the Watergate years.
Americans must never normalize Trump’s attacks against the free press, which Thomas Jefferson said protects all of our freedoms. In our America, the truth will win, and Trump will lose.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.