Trump’s Warning Shot to the Press

Fall in line or prepare for the consequences.

Getty Images

On January 11th, 2017, Donald Trump called his first public press conference as the President-elect of the United States. During the conference, he was asked multiples times by journalists and reporters to comment on his stances regarding alleged Russian interference with the free election. He did not answer a single question directly.

Instead, he used his time to quite literally spar with reporters, deflect uncomfortable inquiries by bringing up Hillary Clinton, present his brand new business lawyer to spell out his questionable methods for dealing with his conflicts of interest, and mock news organizations that questioned him.

The more I watched, the more frustrated I became. What was the point of this? He wasn’t saying anything new, he wasn’t detailing any specific plans he had, and he wasn’t reassuring us of anything we may be feeling uneasy about during this time of transition.

And then I realized something. This was not a press conference. This was a clear warning shot to the press: fall in line or stay out of my way; if not, there will be consequences.

This conference was not meant to clarify anything for the press or the American people. It was instead a dolled-up threat to the journalists who have made it their mission to go after every bit of falsehood and half-truth that has come out of his mouth.

At one point while discussing the unverified claims in a recent intelligence report regarding his alleged ties to Russia, Trump said BuzzFeed will “suffer the consequences” for releasing the dossier. Although BuzzFeed’s decision to publish the dossier certainly challenges journalistic precedent, it did not break the law nor did it warrant a not-so-veiled threat from the President-elect.

The President-elect, in a petty move, also refused to answer a question from CNN’s Senior White House Correspondent, instead deeming the organization itself to be a proprietor of fake news.

This press conference was likely a preview of the coming administration’s plans for the media, and I fear that this is only the beginning. I believe this press conference was the first step of the Trump administration’s campaign to discredit the media and thereby control the flow of information.

Freedom of the press is not a black and white issue. A nation, like the U.S., can claim to uphold the precedent while simultaneously taking steps to restrict it legislatively. There is already such an international precedent.

For the last six years, I have lived in Japan as an American expat, where freedom of the press is a constitutional guarantee. That makes sense, considering that the Japanese constitution borrows heavily from its American counterpart.

But in 2013, the Shinzo Abe-led Japanese government passed the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets Act, despite overwhelming public criticism. This law was said to be a national security measure, although in reality it is nothing more than law that punishes ‘whistleblowers’ for publishing anything deemed to be a state secret. The sentence for such a violation is up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to the equivalent of $100,000.

The language of the Act is so vague in its definition of what constitutes a secret that it allows ministers to deem nearly anything a secret at will. Once information is classified as such, it’s protected for 60 years, and the 10-year prison sentence applies.

A similar scenario could easily play out in the U.S., especially given Trump’s animosity for nearly every major, established news outlet — not to mention the gift of a Republican Congress eager to pass contentious bills in rapid-fire succession.

President-elect Trump, by calling this press conference and then refusing to respond to legitimate questions and concerns, flexed his now-strong muscles, thereby giving the media a taste of the hostility that will likely last the duration of his term.

This press conference was the first step in the Trump administration’s long-term plan to strip the media of its collective legitimacy, thereby weakening their ability to hold him accountable.

If that doesn’t terrify you, then maybe he’s already achieved his goal.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.