President Trump deserves an award — for undermining the press

President Trump deserves an award — for undermining the press
© Greg Nash

On Jan. 17, President TrumpDonald John TrumpNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' MORE finally announced awards for the “most corrupt and dishonest media.” Despite the long wait, there were no surprises. The awards went  to news organizations that the president has bashed on Twitter, including the New York Times, CNN, and the Washington Post.

Nine days earlier, in response to President Trump’s original announcement, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) announced an awards ceremony of its own—the Press Oppressor awards.

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The goal was simple: Amid public discourse on “fake news,” CPJ sought to recognize world leaders who have relentlessly attacked the press, silenced critical voices, and undermined the democratic norms that support freedom of the media.

 

Granted, the entire “awards” trope was a form of mockery, but we felt it was important to contextualize this type of negative rhetoric and the very real threats journalists face around the world face.

Most of our the “press oppressor” awards elicited nods of agreement.  We honored President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey with both “Most Thin-skinned” and “Most Outrageous Use of Terror Laws Against the Press.”

Other honorees including President Xi Jinping of China (Tightest Grip on Media) and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Biggest Backslider). But one particular awardee did raise a few eyebrows: U.S. President Donald J. Trump won for “Overall Achievement” in Undermining Global Press Freedom.

A number of outlets published criticisms of this move, including The Hill. As Ned Ryun wrote, “It would appear [CPJ has] never been to other countries in the world where troublesome journalists just disappear or have mysterious accidents.”

Of course, CPJ visits such countries every day. Our experts have covered some the world’s most dangerous conflicts. We have correspondents around the world and we regularly visit countries where journalists work in difficult conditions — including Russia, Ukraine, Mexico, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan, and Kenya.

The journalists imprisoned and killed each year are not just numbers to us; many are our friends. For example, courageous Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas, who was gunned down in Sinaloa in May, received CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2011.

The situation in the United States has become increasingly difficult. There have been 34 arrests of journalists in this country in the last year, and 44 journalists have been attacked. The media is routinely vilified and mocked by the president. Journalists are denounced as liars and enemies of the American people.

They are threatened with lawsuits. Still no one would contend that journalists in the United States face conditions remotely comparable to those, for example, in Mexico or Egypt.

In fact, we gave Trump an award for “overall achievement in undermining global press freedom” not because of the conditions facing journalists in the United States.

Instead, we gave it because we believe Trump’s language and actions have enabled the repressive leaders around the world who are jailing journalists in record numbers.

Indeed, CPJ documented 21 cases in 2017 in which journalists were jailed on “fake news” charges.”

The leaders of various governments have used President Trump’s “fake news” mantra to delegitimize the press or justify their own crackdowns on press freedom, including in China, Cambodia, Philippines, Syria, and even Poland.

Leading members of President Trump’s own political party have made this very same point. Last week, Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSen. Coons examines Amazon's privacy and data security practices for Alexa devices Oil companies join blitz for carbon tax The Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget MORE (R-Ariz.) delivered a speech on the Senate floor and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain on Pelosi-Trump feud: 'Put this crap aside' and 'work together for America' Meghan McCain says Ben Carson should be developing brain cancer treatment, not working at HUD Graham urges Trump not to abandon infrastructure talks with Democrats MORE (R-Ariz.) published an op-ed in the Washington Post, both of which condemned President Trump’s rhetoric and actions for providing cover to repressive regimes.

While Trump may not the most repressive global leader, he is among the most influential. The U.S. with its First Amendment should be a model for the world, inspiring journalists everywhere to demand accountability from their leaders.

It is sad beyond reckoning that today it is repressive leaders who are drawing inspiration from our president, adopting Trump’s rhetoric to justify censorship. In our view, this dubious achievement deserved to be honored, and with tongue firmly in cheek, that is precisely what we did.

Courtney C. Radsch is an advocacy director for the Committee to Protect Journalists.