Opinion: Trump out of office means freedom of the press

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Throughout his presidential term, President Donald Trump was known for his attacks on the press. His claims of “fake news” and his undermining of the reliability of minimally biased news outlets, such as The New York Times, are just a few examples of these attacks. 

Fortunately, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), President-elect Joe Biden’s presidency could mean great things for the defense of the rights of journalists and the reversal of the damage done by Trump. 

Trump’s rhetoric surrounding the media, including his “fake news” accusations and his recent undermining of election results and COVID-19, has dramatically impacted the public’s trust in the press. 

In a recent tweet, Trump wrote, “The Fake News is not talking about the fact that ‘Covid’ is running wild all over the World, not just in the U.S. I was at the Virtual G-20 meeting early this morning and the biggest subject was Covid. We will be healing fast, especially with our vaccines!” 

Through his syntactical decision to use quotation marks around the term “Covid,” Trump once again understated the severity of the COVID-19  pandemic and also attacked the reporting of the virus. Tweets such as these can lead the public to doubt the reliability of COVID-19 related statistics and can in turn have dangerous consequences. 

According to The Washington Post, Michael Dubke, who briefly served as Trump’s White House communications director, said, “What concerns me is that authoritarian leaders who had already placed restrictions on their press are using President Trump’s words to justify what they are doing.” 

Trump’s rhetoric surrounding the media has certainly been a major issue over the course of his presidential term. He has also been involved in serious situations where journalists were endangered and even killed. 

According to CPJ, during Trump’s presidency, the non-profit has documented “a record number of journalists in prison around the world and a surge in the number jailed for publishing ‘false news.’”

The CPJ also reported, “The Trump administration has also participated in the cover-up by the Saudi regime of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, protecting Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman and blocking efforts by Congress to hold him accountable for his alleged role in the killing.”

Trump’s history of attacks on the press goes further back than just during his presidency. According to ACLU, as a 2016 Presidential candidate, Trump blacklisted a number of individual reporters and major news sources, including the Washington Post, from attending his campaign events. He also, “referred to journalists as ‘scum’ and ‘slime’ and mocked a reporter for having a disability.” 

So while it is well known that the president has attacked the media on many levels, there is hope for change once Biden takes office. Compared to Trump, Biden’s rhetoric when speaking about the media is already far more neutral. This aids in restoring the freedom of the press and the public’s trust in the media. 

According to the CPJ, there are two things the Biden Administration must do to aid in the protection of journalists’ rights: “First, it must improve the press freedom environment at home. … The Biden administration must also make the protection of press freedom an explicit focus of its foreign policy.” 

While it is unclear if the restoration of the freedom of the press will be a priority for the Biden Administration come his inauguration in January, one thing is clear: Biden’s lack of “fake news” tweets and overall neutral speech surrounding journalists shows that there is some hope for repairing the public’s trust in the media.

Follow Grace on Twitter @gracedreher_.