President Donald Trump announced in a Feb. 25 tweet that he will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in April, an annual dinner dedicated to celebrating freedom of the press by honoring journalists.
Trump will be the first president in 36 years to skip the dinner. The last president to not attend the dinner was Ronald Reagan, who was recovering at Camp David from his assassination attempt. He still phoned in to the event.
Instead, Trump seems to be channeling Richard Nixon in his approach toward the media, which, in 1972, told his national security adviser Henry Kissinger that “the press is the enemy.” Trump himself called the media “the enemy of the American people” in a Feb. 17 tweet, while White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon reiterated what seems to be consensus within the executive by referring to the press as the “opposition party.”
The administration is ignoring how media plays a central role in democracy by facilitating information sharing, remaining independent from the state and honoring the freedom of speech. Transparency is critical in a society in which information does and should flow freely. The government and its representatives, including the president, should be held accountable by the electorate, and the only way this can be done is by an efficient news network.
It is not necessary for any president to be in accord with the media as long as he respects its independence and refrains from actively boycotting a certain news channel or banning major broadcasters and newspapers from press briefings.
The media has, at times, been harsh on Trump. We can all remember his roasting by former President Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents’ dinner last year, mocking the type of change he would bring to the White House if elected. Some would argue Trump was treated more harshly by the media than any other candidate in the Republican race, during which many Americans viewed him as a joke candidate for a long time.
Now, as he holds the highest status in the U.S. government and the world, he does not seem to have forgotten the media’s mockery during his campaign. Ironically, the fact the media covered Trump more than any other candidate might have given him the traction he needed for him to win the presidency.
The fact that last Friday, BBC, CNN, BuzzFeed and The New York Times were among media groups barred from an off-camera informl briefing held by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is a troubling trend. The media will and always has criticized the government as a means of holding it accountable, and by immediately dismissing negative reports as “fake news,” Trump is undermining the legitimacy of the news media.
Countries that traditionally favor strict censorship of the media, including Mynamar, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Libya, ultimately veered toward a complete lack of freedom of speech. For instance, in Russia, journalists criticizing the Kremlin are either imprisoned on trumped-up charges, smeared in the news media or, with increasing frequency, killed. These might be extreme examples, but they ultimately highlight just how important it is to have independent news outlets.
Free speech is a bipartisan issue, and it is in the interests of both Democrats and Republicans to ensure a free and secure media to contribute to a functioning democratic society. Trump has a long term to serve, and the news outlets have many more stories to report.
Martha Petrocheilos is a student at the Law Center. MILLENNIAL’S CORNER appears every other Tuesday.
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