The Current

Donald Trump news conference 'clear attack on the free press'

Journalists who have covered other countries say Trump's press conference this week is worrying — showing signs he's taking the first steps towards becoming authoritarian. So how do news outlets best cover the incoming U.S. administration?
President-elect Donald Trump refused to answer questions from CNN at his first news conference, Jan 11, 2017, declaring the news outlet as 'fake news.' (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

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On Jan. 11, U.S. president-elect Donald Trump held his first press conference in months.

It was at this news conference Trump declared CNN as so-called "fake news" and refused to take questions relating to the network's report on unverified intelligence documents that suggests Russia has compromising information on the president-elect.

Some observers worry this move signals a presidency that is already taking an authoritarian tone. And it has journalists having to explore the best ways to cover the incoming U.S. administration.

"This is a clear attack on the free press. It's violating every norm and standard that we have in countries like the United States and Canada," policy analyst Jasmin Mujanović tells The Current's Friday host Laura Lynch.

"It's signaling that he intends to … fundamentally remake what it means to live in a republic of laws in the United States."

Trump on fake news

7 years ago
Duration 0:46
Trump on fake news

Mujanović says for observers and reporters of authoritarianism, Trump's behaviour sounds off all kinds of alarm bells.

"I don't think it's an accident that some of the most prescient analysis and critique that has come out over the last year year and a half has been from people who have studied authoritarianism, you know in the Middle East and Eastern Europe etc."

He tells Lynch that Trump normalizing lying on public record as a means of public policy and as a means of governance as well as normalizing fringe extreme movements, "are all incredible blaring red flags."

Political columnist Susan Delacourt takes issue with journalists in that news conference telling Lynch "they were egging [Trump] on and trying to get him to say something scandalous."

"It was kind of a dereliction of duty on the part of the media I thought." 
Trump's conduct at his recent news conference is 'not becoming of someone who purports to be the leader of the free world or at the very least the leader of a democratic republic,' says policy analyst Jasmin Mujanović. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

Delacourt says when politicians see the role of media as a marketing or advertising tool and not a public service, there's a problem.

"Donald Trump is a marketer. He's a businessman and he thinks that the media is there primarily to help him do his job and when it doesn't he's you know 'you're fired' or 'you're fake news' or he can shout them down." 

"The problem is is that the line between using the media for that purpose and then just discounting them altogether is it can be easily breached."

When it comes to holding Trump to account, Mujanović has little faith the media can make that happen.

"I don't want that to be interpreted as an attack on the media. I have colleagues who work in journalism. I just think that the issue is that reporters in the United States and Canada and large parts of Europe really have no first-hand experience with authoritarianism so to them this is this is entertainment. This is a circus."

Delacourt's advice to the Washington press corporations over the next four years:

"Don't allow yourself to be played off each other. Hang together."

"And remember that your job is a public service that sometimes competition between the media is not as important as the public service — a democratic rule of the media."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar, Ines Colabrese and Sujata Berry.