We knew this was coming. At his Wednesday press conference, incoming dictator-in-chief Donald Trump intensified his war on the media by refusing to take a question from CNN's Jim Acosta. Trump was angry because CNN had reported on the story that Russia holds compromising information about him. When Acosta tried to ask a question, Trump told him he would not take questions from CNN, calling the network a source of "fake news."
On Thursday morning, Texas Republican congressman Randy Weber tweeted this:
Acosta actually wasn't being disruptive; his behavior was pretty much standard for reporters covering a presidential presser. As for disrespectful? What exactly did Acosta do that falls under the category of being disrespectful? If anything it was Trump who was disrespectful, ridiculing Acosta and his employer while the cameras rolled.
Of course, Weber is entitled to his opinion on what took place. But what's most concerning about his tweet is his call for Acosta to be fired.
Here we have an ally of the incoming president, a sitting member of Congress, who is calling on a media outlet to fire one of their reporters because he attempted to ask Trump a question. That follows the incident Acosta reported yesterday, saying that Trump press secretary Sean Spicer told him he would be thrown out of the press conference if he tried to ask another question. Trump's flunkies should read up on the amendment that comes first in the Bill of Rights. You know, the one that refers to "freedom of the press."
I'm not going to take a stroll down the hyperbole highway and say Weber's tweet is the beginning of fascism in America. But it, and Trump's behavior at his news conference are strong signs that we are about to see the biggest attack on journalists and journalistic independence since at least Richard Nixon.
In a December 23 column at Justia, former Nixon lawyer John Dean predicted what we are now starting to witness. Dean wrote,
[M]uch of the mainstream press is afraid of Trump, fearful he will cut them off from all access. In fact, I predict he will do just that. Nixon did it. He occasionally banned reporters from the White House. He went around the White House press corps to state and local news organizations. It has been almost 150 days since Trump held a press conference. Nixon used to go as long as he could, and unlike Trump, he was good at press conferences because he studied for days for them. Trump is not good at press conferences because he does not have good answers for the questions he will likely be asked, not to mention he is not inclined to study and prepare, so he knows he will likely embarrass himself.
Weber (and Trump) needs to understand something. We just elected a president, not a king. We have a long, proud tradition of an independent press. Sadly, that press has already been compromised in recent years thanks to the desire of many news outlets to remain profitable. (Witness CBS's Les Moonves, who said Trump may be bad for America, but good for CBS.) Now those outlets are facing pressure from Trump and his congressional allies, insisting reporters be courteous and respectful to the great orange king. And of course, like all good subjects, they must never speak until spoken to.