Free Press Must Not Falter

Annette Ungermann, News Editor

President Donald Trump does not shy away from loudly expressing his distrust of news media. He does so on Twitter, at campaign rallies, and, most recently, in his White House press conferences, revealing an adversarial stance against media that should deeply trouble our nation.

On November 7,  chief CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta became another victim in Trump’s attack on the free press after he refused to give up his microphone to a White House intern. Acosta was trying to ask the president to comment on topics such as the Mueller investigation and a Honduran migrant caravan but was repeatedly dismissed by Trump.

Acosta was doing his job: asking tough questions and insisting that those in power be held accountable.

But the executive branch of our government continues to fight against this principle of democracy.

Trump called Acosta a “rude, terrible person.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders subsequently released a statement via Twitter that said “President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration,” yet went on to say that Acosta’s conduct was “absolutely unacceptable.”

Since the event unfolded, Acosta’s press pass has been revoked indefinitely. The response is ongoing, and CNN has sued to win a temporary reprieve, prompting the White House to back down and restore Acosta’s credential as a correspondent.

Despite the apparent win for the press, it still comes with conditions. A single question per reporter, no follow-ups unless prompted by the president, and an agreement that the questioning reporter give up the floor when prompted to do so are now required. Failure to comply can result in the White House revoking or suspending a reporter’s press pass at its discretion.

This blatantly curtails the rights of reporters and purposefully attempts to obstruct their ability to provide accurate information to the public.

Of course, Trump’s vocal dissatisfaction with the news media does serve a purpose: the free press, with free reign to criticize and fact-check the president’s often blatant inaccurate and unfiltered statements, threatens the status of his demagoguery and decreases his legitimacy.

The American free press will not change its mission because the country’s leader feels threatened by it. Yet the sentiment of distrust and frequent media-bashing should make us uneasy, especially when it manifests into such public, unabashed actions of both name-calling and exclusion.

Acosta certainly wasn’t the 1st, and likely won’t be the last journalist targeted by this administration.

A quick Google search can provide a litany of examples in Tweet-form and from various other press conferences in which the president has questioned or downright bullied reporters simply doing their jobs. Earlier this month, the president shut down a reporter attempting to asking him to comment on his nationalist agenda, saying that it was a “racist question.”

He’s insisted reporters sit down, called them “losers” to their faces, and more. Acosta is merely the latest in a series of deeply worrisome and increasingly normalized attacks on the press.

The press is not “the enemy of the American people” as our president has frequently alleged. We must continue to embrace our news outlets, both big and small, because they continue to champion truth and integrity even in a digital age, when fact-checking is more important than ever.

This fight is far from over. The White House Correspondents Association has promised that ludicrous new rules will not limit reporters in doing their jobs. “For as long as there have been White House press conferences, White House reporters have asked follow-up questions. We fully expect this tradition will continue,” they said in a statement on November 19.

A truly free press is legally entitled to Americans, even though such bold displays of authoritarianism coming from the top threaten it. Though it makes leaders uncomfortable to be questioned, critiqued, and consistently fact-checked, they must continue to allow the press to exercise its rights.

Any threat to the press, in turn, threatens our democracy. The comfort of receiving accurate local, national, and international news is something we should be able to take for granted, to inform our daily lives and hold our leaders accountable.