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Trump restricting press access shares similarities with world’s authoritarian leaders

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (George Skidmore/flickr)

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump announced Monday that his campaign revoked the press credentials for the Washington Post. It is the latest in a series of statements and actions by the candidate that seek to restrict press rights and access. His actions share more similarities with authoritarian leaders who crack down on critical reporting, than the ethos of a free press found in democracies.

“Based on the incredibly inaccurate coverage and reporting of the record setting Trump campaign, we are hereby revoking the press credentials of the phony and dishonest Washington Post,” said a message published on Trump’s Facebook page.

The statement came in response to a story regarding critical comments made by Trump regarding the recent mass shooting in Orlando. Trump told Fox News that President Barack Obama “either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind” and went on to further suggest that the latter possibility may be supportive of radical Islam. It was the headline of the story that bothered him most.

“I am no fan of President Obama, but to show you how dishonest the phony Washington Post is, they wrote, ‘Donald Trump suggests President Obama was involved with Orlando shooting’ as their headline. Sad!” said Trump in a Facebook post preceding is revocation of the Washington Post’s credentials.

The United States ranked 41st out of 180 countries analyzed by Reporters Without Borders for its 2016 press freedom index. That puts the country alongside Burkina Faso, Slovenia, the U.K. and Poland when it comes to the ability for journalists to work safely and without restrictions. The U.S. ranks poorly because of recent crackdowns by the government against whistleblowers and lack of federal protections for journalists and their sources.

Earlier in the year, Trump suggested that laws protecting the press should be loosened. The candidate has a decades-long antagonistic relationship with the press – going as far as filing a lawsuit against the author of a biography that questioned the billionaire’s wealth, among other things. Trump has complained that journalists are not fair to him and should be punished when writing things that he deems are not true.

“One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” Trump said at a February rally in Fort Worth, Texas. “We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”

It is language that shares more in common with press-restrictive dictators. Some 69 journalists were killed for doing their work in 2015. The Islamic State and al-Qaida were responsible for more than two-thirds of the killings, alone. Included in that count are the four bloggers hacked or stabbed to death by local extremists in Bangladesh. That is in addition to the 199 journalists in jail at the end of 2015 – a tactic employed by countries like Ethiopia, China and Turkey to quell dissent.

While not as extreme, Trump’s actions and statements about journalists share a similar disdain seen in the words of Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte. He offered a harsh response that endorsed the killing of corrupt journalists when asked about how he would help deal with journalist killings in the wake of a reporter being shot dead in Manila in late May.

“Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch,” said Duterte, at a press conference.

Trump’s ban does not significantly hamper the ability of the Post to cover the Trump campaign. Reporters will not be able to access events nor gain interviews with the candidate, but will still be able to cover Trump “honorably, honestly, accurately, energetically and unflinchingly,” said Post Executive Editor Martin Baron, in a statement.

“Donald Trump’s decision to revoke The Washington Post’s press credentials is nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press,” he said. “When coverage doesn’t correspond to what the candidate wants it to be, then a news organization is banished.”

The ease with which Trump banned the Post may be an ominous sign of what is to come if he is elected president. Freedom of the press is protected by the First Amendment, but that does not mean a Trump White House would have to provide access or credentials to news organizations it does not like.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]