Donald Trump hates the press. It’s no secret. He’s been attacking us since before he won the presidency. But yesterday, he acted on that hatred in a sinister threat to democracy.
News broke last night that the White House had revoked the “hard pass” of CNN’s Jim Acosta, allegedly for grabbing a White House staffer during a press conference in which Trump called Acosta “terrible person” who reports for “fake news,” an accusation he lobbed at Acosta and CNN after Acosta asked a question about bombs sent to the network earlier this month.
The revocation of Acosta’s hard pass effectively bans Acosta from the White House. According to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, the Leni Riefenstahl of this administration, Acosta was suspended for touching a staffer during his questioning. The video shows the White House is lying, and it’s actually Acosta who was grabbed.
In the same press conference, Trump called PBS’ Yamiche Alcindor’s question about whether his embracing the term “nationalist” – a term loaded with fascistic connotations – may have emboldened white nationalists. It was clearly a way to shut Alcindor up without having to answer her quite relevant question.
We should all be terrified by this sudden turn of events. It is utterly unprecedent for a president to ban a reporter for asking tough questions. Sure, many (if not all) presidents have had strained relations with the media at one time or another. That’s because it’s our job, as the free and unfettered press, to ask tough questions, speak truth to power, and hold administrations to account.
Trump doesn’t believe that. Instead, he wants fawning talking-heads like Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro singing his praises like they’re the Pink Lady of North Korea. When they do, they’re rewarded. Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro both got to appear onstage with the president ahead of the midterms—a move so blatantly unethical that even Fox News had to publicly chastise their top-rated talent for making. When they don’t, they get chucked out like Jim Acosta.
I’d love to say this is all just a temper tantrum because Trump took a bruising in the midterms. But it’s not. His history of hostility towards the press is storied. Now that he’s lost the House of Representatives—and sees the walls closing in around him—it’s only going to get worse. Donald Trump will not take this lying down.
But neither should we, the free and unfettered press. For that is what we are—for now. We must keep speaking truth to power. We must keep asking the tough, uncomfortable questions, like “why the president emboldening racists?” and “why does he think it’s okay to say CNN is the “enemy of the people?” after one of his supporters tried to blow CNN up.
Some on Twitter have suggested that the entire White House Press Corps walks out in support of Acosta. I cannot support this. If no one is there to report on this administration, who knows that they will do? Instead, reporters should double-down, asking tougher questions and demanding more thorough answers. The Republic depends on it.
None of this is hyperbole. Oh, that it were. This is serious. Trump has become even more unhinged in defeat than he was in victory. He’s like a caged animal, teeth bared and ready to fight for his life. His first targets are us in the press.
We cannot back down. Rarely has the press been as vital as it is now. The American people deserve to know the truth about what’s going on, and this administration is bound and determined that they do not. Trump insists on propaganda. We must counter it by continuing to report what we know, writing what we see, and making sure the people know the truth behind the lies. History has its eyes on us.
Last week, I wrote in the Independent that as a critic of the Trump administration, I am scared for my safety. But that fear cannot stop us from doing our duties as journalists and opinion writers. We are vital to the survival of democracy, and rarely in American history has the survival of democracy looked so tenuous. It won’t be easy. There are swaths of the country ready to accept the lies of the Trump administration. But we must steady the buffs. The future of the Republic is at stake, and we are the last bastion before it falls to an authoritarian strongman.
I’m not going to shut up. Neither should you.