It is difficult to get much more alarming than Donald Trump’s incitement of violence against the press, but he managed to force himself into a close tie with a statement in which he explicitly threatened to “force” the free press to cover the stories he wants covered. One incites violence against anyone who would dare to criticize Trump, while the other does violence to our most cherished constitutional amendment.
At some point the Fake News will be forced to discuss our great jobs numbers, strong economy, success with ISIS, the border & so much else!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2017
Coming from an ordinary right-wing crank, this would simply be an empty expression of impotent rage, but from a leader of the free world who controls both houses of Congress, it is nothing short of a threat, especially given his administration’s track record.
Before Trump even assumed office, then-senior adviser Kellyanne Conway made the chilling suggestion that there ought to be “consequences” for those who criticize Trump:
People feel like with Donald Trump, they have license to say whatever the heck they want about this guy, with no consequences, with no blowback. The guy has a right to defend himself. And he rarely draws first blood. It’s when he is attacked, he likes to set the record straight.
Because it was overshadowed by what Conway calls “alternative facts,” a lot of people have forgotten that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s first official act was to literally scream a list of demands at reporters as to what they should cover, or that Conway herself threatened Chuck Todd’s access, live on television, when she didn’t like his line of questioning.
If Trump is going to try and “force” favorable coverage, this will likely be the first tactic. The Trump administration has already made unprecedented attacks on press access to the White House, including banning specific outlets, and the White House Correspondents’ Association has shown little in the way of solidarity with those who are being attacked. How long will it be before Trump gathers news executives and reporters for another “off the record” session, this time to insist on positive coverage in exchange for access?
The Trump administration already struck such a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group before Trump was even inaugurated — and bragged about it. That same group is about to expand tremendously, creating more pressure for other outlets to follow suit.
And if that tactic doesn’t work, Trump still has the entire government to work with, at least until 2018.