America’s role in a ‘climate of hatred’ for journalists

A growing “climate of hatred” permeates the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, in which the United States dropped two places. Compiled by Reporters Without Borders, the annual report measures the level of media freedom based on a host of factors, and ranked America 45th out of 180 countries analyzed. “In the report, there is very little to celebrate,” writes The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian. “The survey paints yet another depressing portrait of the gradual erosion of one of free societies’ most treasured principle.”

The most troubling conclusion may be that “hostility towards the media from political leaders is no longer limited to authoritarian countries such as Turkey and Egypt.” The report finds that “more and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion.” Criticizing President Trump as a “media-bashing enthusiast,” the survey directly links the administration’s abdication of its press-championing role to the worsening climate around the world.

RWB’s report builds on a trend that the organization identified in last year’s rankings. In 2017, the organization described “a world in which attacks on the media have become commonplace and strongmen are on the rise.” This year’s biggest drop in the rankings came from Malta, which fell 18 spots to 65th. Last fall, journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a targeted car-bombing in the Mediterranean island nation.

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Asked about the report’s linkage of President Trump’s media bashing to a deteriorating climate around the globe, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders rejected the idea that Trump or his administration had contributed to the negative environment. “I think we’re one of the most accessible administrations that we’ve seen in decades,” she said at Wednesday’s press briefing. CNN’s Jim Acosta followed up, asking with some degree of incredulity, “Are you trying to say that this administration is a champion of a free press?” Sanders complained about the tone of some questions and stated, “We support a free press but we also support a fair press. And I think that those things should go hand in hand, and there’s a certain responsibility by the press to report accurate information.”

The Trump administration can hardly be held responsible for every crackdown against the press or incident of intimidation or violence; there are numerous factors at play, and plenty of countries have had issues that long predate Trump’s arrival on the world stage. At the same time, America has long been a vocal advocate for press freedom, even when it wasn’t living up to its ideals at home. The constant attacks from the White House—on outlets, individual journalists, and the institution of the free press as a whole—do have an impact. When the US shirks its role as a defender of journalism, it provides leeway for leaders in other countries, authoritarian and democratic, to crack down. The result is a darkening picture around the globe.

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Below, more on the state of press freedom in America and abroad.

 

Other notable stories

  • NBC bet big on the idea that Megyn Kelly could make the transition from firebrand Fox News host to morning show anchor. So far, writes The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint, that wager hasn’t paid off. Since joining NBC last year, Kelly has courted controversy and seen her audience numbers drop. Flint writes that Kelly’s struggles underscore “the big risks of high-stakes wagers on celebrity news personalities.”
  • Mediaite’s Aidan McLaughlin profiles The Daily Beast, an outlet that consistently punches above its weight in coverage of the politics-and-pop-culture world. Since taking the reins from founder Tina Brown in 2013, Editor in Chief John Avlon has “transformed the publication from hobbling website with constant rumors of its demise, to leading media staple with a defined sensibility that routinely rivals the reporting of the prestige press,” McLaughlin writes.
  • CJR’s Mathew Ingram asks, “Do people really want to watch a Netflix show about BuzzFeed journalism?” The streaming service announced Wednesday that it is launching a series of 15-minute episodes that will follow BuzzFeed reporters as they go about their work.
  • CNN’s Tom Kludt breaks down the controversy surrounding MSNBC host Joy Reid. After homophobic posts were discovered on her now-defunct blog, Reid claimed that she had been hacked. Several people have expressed doubts about that assertion, but Reid’s lawyer claims the FBI has opened a criminal investigation into the matter.
  • For CJR, historian Danielle McGuire argues that journalists and public figures who rely on historical research to tell their stories need to do a better job crediting those who did the work. When writers, bloggers, and public figures “take historians’ work, including our analysis, framing, and argument—our intellectual property—and present it as an ‘untold’ story or readymade fact, we feel that without reference or attribution it is not translation. It is presenting our work as their own,” she writes.
  • Peter Thiel won’t be buying Gawker.com after all, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Randles. The billionaire investor made the decision in order to “avoid a potential lawsuit over his secretly funding litigation that drove the news and gossip blog’s publisher out of business,” Randles reports.
  • Programming note: Just after this newsletter goes live, President Trump will appear on Fox & Friends. It’s his first major TV interview in a while.

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.