Trump's war on the media descends into murder claim, threat to "close down" Twitter

How authoritarians treat the press

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Trump is this close to demanding a show trial of MSNBC's Joe Scarborough.

Wallowing into the depths of the paranoid swamp that now surrounds the West Wing, Trump continues to try to politicize the death of a young Capitol Hill staffer who died from a heart attack 19 years ago in the office of then-Congressman Scarborough. Lobbying baseless claims about the cable TV host, Trump is barreling towards new lows this week, while simultaneously lashing out at Twitter, threatening to "close" down the social media giant after it finally fact-checked one of his ceaselessly false tweets. (Twitter needs to ban Trump outright.)

As for Scarborough, Trump has stressed that the statute of limitations on the case has not expired, suggesting he'd welcome his corrupt Department of Justice to launch an outlandish, partisan murder investigation in the middle of a presidential campaign. For anyone who scoffs at the idea of the president orchestrating a murder charge against a journalist as being out of the realm of possibility, consider that six months ago nobody thought the President of the United States would be using Twitter to accuse a TV host of killing someone, and doing it over the loud, public objections of the dead woman's family.

Yet here we are, and there's no telling where we're headed in terms of Trump adopting shocking, gutter tactics. On Thursday, he’s expected to sign an executive order that would unleash the federal government on Twitter, Facebook and Google for the supposed sin of silencing conservative voices.

The sad part is, all of this was inevitable because this is how authoritarians treat the press. They do everything in their power to destroy the power of the news media by relentlessly attacking its worth and undercutting journalists with assaults and insults. Unequivocally targeting reporters as the “enemy of the people,” Trump has signaled to the GOP and to the larger conservative movement that it’s open season on the news media.

There's clearly irony in the fact that Trump is now smearing Scarborough with false claims when the MSNBC host proved to be a valuable ally during much of the 2016 campaign, giving the dangerous candidate tons of free airtime where he launched ceaseless, usually unquestioned, lies about Hillary Clinton.

It's impossible to overlook how the press helped create the Trump monster that's now marauding the political landscape and waging war on the media, to the point of making groundless criminal allegations. Anxious in 2016 for a candidate who would vilify Clinton, whom the Beltway press held in contempt, the media showered Trump in endless attention and treated him like a celebrity, while Clinton got nailed the cross over an A-rated global charity.

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Part of that Faustian bargain in 2016, which also revolved around ratings and clicks, was the press looked the other way while Trump turned journalists into villains and props at his rallies. On the campaign trail he regularly called reporters "disgusting" and "horrible people.” His ardent followers picked up his cues and began raining down insults and death threats on journalists covering the Trump campaign.

As president, Trump quickly intensified his anti-media crusade, insulting them at every turn during televised White House briefings. “I called the fake news ‘the enemy of the people’ -- and they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources, they just make them up when there are none,” Trump announced weeks after being inaugurated, signaling his obvious strategy of attack and demolish. 

In response, billion-dollar news outlets have taken no collective stand and have refused to stand up for their employees, other than occasionally releasing timid statements of protest. (They took swift collective action to register complaints when Barack Obama was president.)

When Trump recently berated ABC News' Jonathan Karl during a White House briefing, Karl insisted the "insults don't matter," which is why he and ABC didn't fight back. Sadly, it's quite easy to connect the dots between news outlets taking no action when Trump attacks their journalists on camera, and Trump launching a campaign to accuse a journalist of murder. Trump knows the bullying works.

Even today, as Trump smears a high-profile cable TV host, newspaper editorial boards refuse to call for Trump's resignation, even though more than 100 daily made that demand of Bill Clinton during his impeachment.

Why the paralysis? The press has been completely bullied by Trump and frightened by fear of "liberal media bias" claims. That's why the political press won't call Trump a liar, even though his documented lies now number in the thousands. It's also been clear for years that the American press simply isn't equipped to deal with Trump's radical and dangerous foray into authoritarianism. U.S. journalists don't know much about covering authoritarian regimes, or know how to respond to them.

That's the kind interpretation. The unkind interpretation is the press is simply too afraid to confront Trump, and hides behind phony newsroom guidelines in order to avoid loudly telling the truth. Consequently, the press has been part of allowing the unthinkable to become commonplace.

And that's been true of the murder claims lodged against Scarborough, which the D.C. media downplayed for days — the New York Times initially called Trump's reckless and demented attack a "jab."  

There's not bottom for Trump when it comes to his war on the media. The press needs to brace for the worst and start fighting back.

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Writing this week at Bloomberg, Francis Wilkinson details the collective American failure to deal with the Republican Party's open embrace of authoritarianism: "American Politics Is Now Democrats Versus Authoritarians."

Likening the situation to what's unfolded in recent years with the anti-democratic push in Hungary, Wilkinson brings welcomed clarity to the dangers in play:

There are still traditional Republicans scattered about the states. But in Washington the party is organized around Trump’s white nationalism, corruption and contempt for rule of law. In Hungary, the Fidesz party has traveled a similar route, and the signposts are familiar: hyper-gerrymandered legislative districts, courts packed with loyalists and a party propaganda infrastructure owned by oligarchs aligned with the party.


Lilly Hiatt, "Brightest Star"

Yes, she's the daughter of iconic singer/songwriter John Hiatt. And yes, she's immensely talented. For me, Hiatt the dad has been among my strongest musical influences over the years, starting with his landmark 1989 roots rock album, Slow Turning. Here, Lilly Hiatt taps into a similar vein and makes the sound all her own with her sterling new album, Walking Proof.

You give em your best, you never get rest
But still they don’t know who you are
I just wanted to say on any given day
To me, you’re the brightest of stars