MNA Editorial Desk: The Trump administration should “act as a champion of press freedom”, a senior member of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Saturday, rather than prosecute a war with mainstream US media that could “send a signal to other countries that it is OK to verbally abuse journalists and undermine their credibility”.
Rob Mahoney, deputy executive director of the CPJ, a nonprofit that promotes press freedom worldwide, told news agency Trump’s attacks on the press do not “help our work trying to deal with countries like Turkey, Ethiopia or Venezuela, where you have governments who want to nothing more than to silence and intimidate the press.”
Mahoney also said attempts to favour conservative press outlets and declare the mainstream media the “enemy of the American people” looked like a deliberate effort by the White House to “inoculate itself from criticism”.
“Any time the press now uncovers a scandal or wrongdoing the administration can dismiss it as false,” he said.
On Friday, the administration blocked a number of media outlets, including the New York Times, CNN and the Guardian, from an off-camera briefing with press secretary Sean Spicer.
Spicer later said the White House planned to “aggressively push back” against the press. “We’re just not going to sit back and let false narratives, false stories, inaccurate facts get out there,” he said.
Within the press, reaction was furious. New York Times editor Dean Baquet said “nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations”.
Lee Glendinning, editor of Guardian US, said: “This is a deeply troubling and divisive act. Holding power to account is an essential part of the democratic process, and that’s exactly what the Guardian will continue to do.”
The White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) attempted to play down the issue, noting the administration was still providing near-daily briefings.
Some observers suggested the move to block some organisations from the Friday briefing was an attempt to distract the public from controversial stories. On Saturday, the Trump administration faced new reports regarding its efforts to downplay what intelligence agencies believe to be communications between campaign staff and Russian intelligence.
The Washington Post reported that the administration asked senior members of the intelligence community and Congress to call news organizations and challenge such reports. The calls were organised after the administration unsuccessfully asked FBI officials to dispute the accuracy of stories, the Post said.