By Miriam Raftery
July 4, 2017 (Washington D.C.) – President Donald Trump hit below the belt, in the view of professional journalists, when he tweeted a 28-second video altered to depict Trump wrestling and punching a figure with the CNN logo transposed on its head. The video also alters the CNN logo to read, “FNN: Fraud News Network.”
The video apparently originated from an actual appearance by Trump at a World Wrestling Federation event in which he participated, a video altered by an unknown person who posted in on Reddit; Trump then sent it to nearly 50 million Americans via the President’s official presidential and his personal Twitter accounts.
“At a time when reporters around the world are risking their lives everyday to report the news, it is absolutely unacceptable that violence against them should be promoted by any public figure, let alone the President of the country of the First Amendment,” reads a statement issued by Margaux Ewin, director of advocacy and communications for Reporters Without Borders, an international organized based in France and dedicated to protecting freedom of the press.
Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, also condemned what he termed, “the president’s threat of physical violence against journalists,” adding, “No one should be threatened with physical harm for doing their jobs. Journalists perform a critical function in our society, one the Founding Fathers felt was so necessary that they enshrined it first in the Bill of Rights.” He added, “Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy. The press are the people's window into the halls of power, and most importantly, they are the people's check on that power. When the president attacks the press, he attacks the people."
The violent video was just the latest in a serious of attacks by Trump against the media. CNN, a normally respected journalism organization, drew the President’s ire most recently after it retracted a negative story based on leaks from unnamed sources that turned out not to be true.
In a statement responding to Trump’s latest assault, CNN called it a “sad day when the President of the United States encourages violence against reporters.”
Trump’s wrestling tweet came just days after White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee defended Trump, insisting that “The president in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence.”
CNN analyst Carl Bernstein, known for his Watergate expose for the Washington Post in the 1970s, denounced Trump’s video as “very disturbing” and “anti-freedom of the press.’
While a few conservative commentators have dismissed the prank as trivial, most who have spoken out in both parties and the press found it no laughing matter. Conservative CNN commentator Ben Ferguson said he thought the violent tweet of Trump assaulting a reporter was among the more “humorous moments” of Trump’s war on the press.
But Republican commentator for CNN Ana Navarro called Trump’s tweet “an incitement to violence,” adding, “He is going to get someone killed in the media.”
Also this weekend, conservative TV host Joe Scarborough tweeted that he has texts from top Trump aides, and phone records, proving they threatened a National Enquirer expose on Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, if they wouldn’t stop offensive coverage of the President. Trump, in a series of tweets, also insulted the appearance and intelligence of Brzezinski.
In a July 1 speech, he again denounced media as dishonest, then boasted, “But I’m president and they’re not.”
Some users complained to Twitter and asked that the video be removed or Trump’s Twitter accounts canceled completely, but Twitter concluded the video, though offensive, did not violate the site’s rules.
Ironically, the same First Amendment that protects press freedoms Trump seeks to limit through intimidation of reporters also provides protection for politically offensive speech, arguably including the President’s most recent tweets.
Press freedoms are under assault around the world, however, and even in the United States. The U.S. currently ranks 43rd out of 180 countries for freedom of the press, in Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 World Press Freedom Index.