Monday, November 27, 2017

Attack against press freedom is the first step to the end of democracy

Revised and updated: 11/30/17

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, 12/6/17

Added January 17, 2018

Added: 12/9/17
Net neutrality is also an element of taking away medium freedom.  To understand why,

Everyday I am grateful for this country.  I know that if I lived in Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey or any number of countries in the world ruled by “strong men” or  despots, I could could risk my life or freedom by writing  this column that often is in opposition to our country’s Leader’s  view of the world and issues. Fundamentally important first steps  enabling despots to  rise to power and their keeping it was their  destruction of the freedom of press by degrading,  killing,  or imprisoning  journalists and bankrupting opposition press through manipulation by various means.

If citizens only hear one slant on the news, mind control follows. Having many outlets funded by a variety of owners permits those in a democracy to come to their own conclusions which may even be contrary to the interests of their dear Leader. As those who studied the methods of control of media by despots, know that it happens in steps and slowly until it is too late for any opposition to find a platform. For the sake of our democracy, any tendencies of political leaders to try to destroy press freedom must be recognized and nipped in the bud at the beginning before it is too late.

I lived in Berlin in the late 1950’s with a front row seat to the Stalinization of Eastern Germany and I married a refugee from dictator Tito’s Yugoslavia, visiting that Communist  country frequently for many years.  I spent my time in Berlin on a quest of understanding how Hitler rose to power in an educated, western cultural country. What I did learn was that the first step in consolidating power was  destruction of the free press . Our founders even in the 1700s understood that and wrote protections in the First Amendment of  our Constitution. For that reason, media  in the US was once  called the fourth estate, the fourth branch of government  checking each other’s power in addition to the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

In our  divided country thanks to the Trump campaign and administration,  we have begun questioning any “truth” or “facts” presented by the “other”  side . That is extremely dangerous to any democracy  that depends on open debate of issues  and consensus based on commonly agreed facts.  Claiming there are no credible facts except those presented by the Leader (Hitler called contrary press, the lying press..Lugenpresse) is a tool wannabe dictators  have used to destroy freedom of the press. In fact, at campaign rallies some of Trump supporters aggressively chanted "Lugenpresse" at reporters.

Especially alarming is Donald Trump’s recent attack on CNN and his stated embrace of  only one approved cable news network, FOX News.. Those media outlets who present facts contrary to his pronouncements  or criticize  him are often called “fake news” . Trump Thanksgiving weekend tweeted to  declare that Fox News “is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN,” adding that CNN represents the United States "poorly" to the world. At the same time his Justice Department  sued to block a media merger that critics claimed was a move  to force the sale of CNN, a frequent target of Trump as the conveyor of “fake news”. At the same time, Trump's appointed Federal Communications Commission enacted rules paving the way for the merger of a pro Trump group, Sinclair Media with Tribune Media . At the same time, his FCC approved rules permitting consolidation of local media outlets, including lifting the rule prohibiting print media to also own TV and radio stations, reducing the variety of news sources and interpretations available to viewers. This was overtly favoring and strengthening the media domination of major markets by his chosen media.


The only bright side of Trump's view of what is fake news and what is not is that it has become obvious that the chief conveyor of fake news is Trump himself via his tweets. So outrageous were his tweets in the past couple of weeks, he damaged his own credibility , contradicting his own prior declarations. A recent Trump tweet gave  the link and his accolades to a conspiracy theory media outlet, MAGAPILL.  The site  spouted White Nationalist, anti Semitic, and far fetched paranoia . The following week his tweets linked to a British web site promoting hate mongering anti Muslim propaganda containing a video already debunked by Dutch authorities and raising the ire of the UK Prime Minister and members of Parliament.

An attempt by the right wing group Veritas to try to trap the Washington Post into demonstrating they were the source of fake news backfired last week as well. An undercover worker tried to sell Post reporters on a story that was fake as a way to bait them into reporting a fake news story to damage their credibility. The problem was that the reporters did their due diligence on the story and discovered the sting operation, only proving that the Post's skills and reporting were even more credible and respected, not less.

Do I think Trump read Hitler’s, Putin’s, Erdogan’s playbook about how to turn a democracy into their type of “strong man” governance?  He certainly has shown a nearly fawning admiration of their style, but he also has demonstrated  ignorance of the Constitutional provisions and  lack of interest in American history and seems angered when some judicial body or judge  reigns him in, calling an executive order he issued as  unconstitutional.  The concept of the  rule of law seems to be a puzzle to him. His answer: stack the courts with  appointees with ideologues favorable to his beliefs. He has already tamed all but of few of the GOP members of Congress, who fear meeting his true believers in their gerrymandered district’s primary.   No, I do not think he has read the despots and dictator’s playbook, though he tries to mimic some of their techniques.    He is an organic , impulsive wannabe strong man; it is a part of his nature and his soul.

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