Donald Trump and Press Freedom

Much fun was had at Donald Trump’s press conference yesterday when he shut down a CNN loudmouth who appeared to think Trump owed him a favour.  Cue much gnashing of teeth on Twitter about how Trump is endangering the freedom of the press.

Let’s get something straight here.  Freedom of the press means only that a newspaper or other media organ is allowed to operate free of government interference, and can write or say whatever they like subject to the usual caveats regarding defamation and issues of national security.  And that’s it.

Freedom of the press does not mean that certain journalists are entitled to take part in the press conferences of presidents (or president-elects), and demand that the speaker takes their questions.  This is especially true if the media organ in question – in this case CNN – chose to abandon all pretence to journalistic integrity and openly side with one Presidential candidate over another during the election.

Donald Trump owes the mainstream media absolutely nothing, and is no more obliged to grant them access to his press conferences or answer their questions than he is to me in my role of a blogger.  True, it would be better if a US President or President-elect does hold press conferences such that the people can be better informed, but the media has utterly abused its privileges in this regard for so long that allowing it to continue in its current form would be tantamount to a conspiracy to mislead the public.

I hope Trump kicks out or ignores those news organisations which have proven themselves to be staffed by partisan hacks openly campaigning for the Democrats, and gives preferential treatment to those who at least pretend to be informing the public in an impartial manner.  If no such organisations exist, then perhaps it is time to get rid of the White House press conferences and let Trump stick to using Twitter.

Either way, unless Trump is attempting to shut newspapers down or severely restrict what they can print (as we in the UK seem to be doing with barely a whimper), then complaints of press freedom being under attack are utterly baseless and should be ignored.

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10 thoughts on “Donald Trump and Press Freedom

  1. Francis,

    Indeed: more than a few commentators have also pointed out that it would have been nice if the press showed such attacking instincts over the past eight years as they did with Trump yesterday. These people work for the Democrats, pure and simple. They have no business being in a press conference: if they want to address Trump, they can run for office on a Democratic ticket.

  2. Trump doesn’t have to try to shut down newspapers: the readers are doing that by simply not buying the product. When I began in newspapers (1968) the evening paper I worked on claimed that it was selling 350,000 copies a night. This was to some degree creative accounting, though it began to emerge that sales were falling. No, it wasn’t all my fault either, but the readers were finding the paper — and indeed any paper — less attractive and less worthwhile.

    So, papers changed by introducing colour and going tabloid from broadsheet on the pretence it was easier to read, but no matter what the cosmetic changes it was soon clear fewer and fewer people were reading it each year. Instead of copies sold as the measure it became marketed as ‘reach’ or readers per issue, which was utterly nebulous by pretending the paper was handed round several people, which despite ‘surveys’ the number could only be guessed at. The other day I ran into an old colleague who had kept in touch with my former employer. He said that the last he heard they were struggling to sell even 50 – 60,000 copies each night. With fewer staff, and increasingly less experienced so-called journalists the paper then has to rely on less coverage of local issues and more and more filler stuff from agencies. In the end it is not very much spread thin and new readers are hard to find. Not least of which was using larger and larger pictures to fill column inches. Worse, the loyal readership is simply dying off through old age.

    As for press freedom, there are many pretences in the media about their role and value in society. That’s just one of them, in the same way they think private and personal issues are ‘in the public interest’ even when it is at times merely blatant voyeurism. That the media has not only abused its position of privilege and has preferred opinion to facts is plain to see, but the tragedy is they cannot themselves see what they have done to their supposedly noble reputation by this approach.

    On this last point, a tale: papers used to like peddling the story that in a survey of who was the most dishonest of ‘professionals’ the bottom slot was down at 20th, used car sales people. At nineteenth in the list of mistrusted people were politicians. Ho ho ho, what fun, but the papers never reported that in eighteenth slot were journalists.

    I’d even say now the journalist would have slipped below used car sellers.

  3. That the media has not only abused its position of privilege and has preferred opinion to facts is plain to see, but the tragedy is they cannot themselves see what they have done to their supposedly noble reputation by this approach.

    This.

  4. @Watcher

    Interesting story of an industry in secular decline.

    This one below is another good account of how journalism was once bankrolled by the endless rivers of gold from car ads, real estate and jobs and how alternative means have now replaced the much in demand classifieds.

    “In those days, every Friday around midnight, the streets outside the Age building overflowed with people who came to buy an early copy of the paper with its thousands of classified ads for jobs, cars and properties. To see them pick up their newspapers that night, keeping the classified ads and dumping the rest into rubbish bins placed along the street by Age staff, was a dose of reality for an idealistic journalist. I now realise I was seeing evidence for a prediction made a decade earlier by media savant Marshall McLuhan. “The classified ads (and stock-market quotations) are the bedrock of the press,” he observed. “Should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold.”

    The incongruity in that business model – profits from ads for jobs, houses and cars bankrolling the journalism that is vital to a functioning democracy – took several decades to play out. The “newspaper business model”, as it’s now derisively known, has imploded. People no longer line the streets outside newspaper presses at night to be the first to see the ads. The internet has poached most of Australia’s newspaper classified advertising. The money that financed quality journalism for a century is disappearing, with no likely replacement.”

    https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/july/1372600800/eric-beecher/death-fairfax-and-end-newspapers

  5. Bardon,

    That’s fascinating. And it’s worth also mentioning that government advertisements are probably keeping a lot of newspapers afloat, e.g. The Guardian.

  6. The UK broadsheets are all atrocious in their own special way. The graun is slickly written for the most part – but in such an obviously biased way as to make it painful to read. The dead tree version is even more tunnel-visioned than online. I’m not convinced the writers on the Times or Telegraph even speak English.

    At least in Germany we still have several quality papers, though obviously they don’t sell well either.

  7. I can’t help remembering Doyle, Dickens etc. were serialised in newspapers. Perhaps they should try a page of 64 Shades of Grey, see how that goes.

  8. Imagine working in a career where your entire raison d’être was to discover new information and present it to people with informed analysis of the future implications.

    ….yet you miss what the internet, smartphones and mobile data networks will do to your industry.

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