Are journalists safe in America?

Freedom of the press in the USA : The newspaper reports on a targeted campaign against journalists critical of Trump

“Enemies of the people”, “fake news”, “corrupt journalism” or, as last week, the “diabolical propaganda machine of the Democratic Party”: US President Donald Trump's attempts to undermine the credibility of the critical press seem to have no limits know. As the "New York Times" reported, citing several insiders, this rhetoric is now accompanied by a campaign by conservative circles that are said to have targeted the reputation of individual journalists. According to this, people close to Trump are trying on the Internet to expose representatives of those media houses that they consider to be "hostile" to the president and his environment, especially CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Their approach is similar to that of aggressive political election campaigns: They look for statements worthy of criticism in old social media statements and elsewhere, save them so that they are retained even after they have been deleted, and threaten to make them public. In several cases this has already happened, writes the "New York Times". Most recently last week, apparently in response to two critical pieces in the newspaper - one about Trump's criticism of the Jews and one about the questioning résumé of his new spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham. The right website "Breitbart News" published an article shortly after the Grisham portrait about anti-Semitic and racist tweets by the "Times" political editor Tom Wright-Piersanti, who had dismissed the latter a decade ago as a college student. As he had stated in 2009: “There are four mohawk Indian in this one class, and each one is a fool in his own way. I hate Iroquois Indians. ”On New Years Day 2010, he tweeted that one of his resolutions was to be less anti-Semitic.

The fact that the newspaper immediately distanced itself, the person concerned, who according to the newspaper had nothing to do with the portrait, apologized and deleted his tweets, did not help much. The shitstorm raged - and further publications via other "Times" employees were threatened.

The White House doesn't want to hear about a campaign

Among others by Arthur Schwartz, apparently one of the key figures in the campaign. The 47-year-old, a conservative advisor and, according to the report, friends with the eldest son of the President, Donald Trump Jr., has worked with, among others, Trump's right-wing ex-advisor Stephen Bannon. In previous cases, too, Schwartz highlighted old tweets from journalists after they criticized Trump. For example, in the case of CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, who was homophobic in college more than seven years ago, Schwartz tweeted in October. Collins had spoken of "queens" in tweets and said she was uncomfortable with the idea of ​​sharing a room with a lesbian. Here, too, it was of little help at first that she immediately apologized.

Both the White House and the Trump campaign team claim they know nothing about a campaign, but the goal is clear: The publications are intended to benefit the White House and are used in retaliation for critical reporting on the government. Schwartz is also very publicly committed to this on Twitter: For example, he wrote in October of last year: “I've criticized CNN enough for now. They should focus more on their own hypocrisy when attacking the Trump administration - attacks that usually rely on old tweets and Facebook posts. I've been told that there are files on more than 35 CNN reporters that will be released when they don't. "

The media are alarmed

The media houses concerned expressed concern. "If something like this is clearly used in retaliation, it is clearly an attack and clearly not journalism," said former Washington Post editor-in-chief Leonard Downie Jr. While tensions between the president and the press are nothing new, it is an organized campaign aiming to expose journalists and endanger their jobs has a new quality. "Times" editor A. G. Sulzberger spoke of a new low point in the presidential attacks on the free press. "The aim of this campaign is clearly to intimidate journalists in their work," which is to expose political misconduct, he said. But his newspaper cannot be silenced. CNN said that if government officials or people around them threaten reporters, it is very dangerous.

There was also criticism from the political side. The Democratic Senator of Oregon, Jeff Merkley, tweeted: “A free press (...) ensures that even the most powerful among us can be held accountable. Intimidating reporters to influence reporting is the tactic of dictators and has no place here. "

Schwartz himself stated that his role was greatly exaggerated in the report. But he didn't want to deny the story.

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page