President Donald Trump really enjoys palling around with dictators from around the world — which is not something you’d ever want to be able to say about a president of the United States, but here we are. This week at the G20 summit of world leaders in Japan, he bonded with Russian President Vladimir Putin over their shared disdain for journalists who produce critical stories, quipping that we should “get rid” of them. Remember — according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a full 26 journalists have been murdered in Russia while Putin has been president. Trump is putting up journalists’ very lives as a punchline.
He told Putin, discussing the critical journalists:
‘Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia but we do.’
Putin responded that Russia actually has the “same” so-called problem. It’s not the only grave issue of national and for many people personal security that Trump turned into nothing more than a punchline while sitting down with Putin for the first time in about a year. When a reporter asked if he would press Putin not to meddle in U.S. elections as his government did during the 2016 presidential race, with a slight grin Trump turned to Putin right then and there and quipped:
‘Don’t meddle in the election.’
And that was that.
Trump has dismissed the threat of Russian interference and the legitimacy of the media many times before. It’s his most recent previous in-person meeting with Putin that ended up marked by the president of the United States dismissing the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community and declaring he saw no reason to believe Russia had ever meddled in U.S. elections at all. He eventually tried to backtrack, but in the face of his mountain of still-standing, other dismissive comments, it’s not exactly a credible attempt.
On numerous other occasions, Trump has dismissed the “fake news” as the “enemy of the people.” He has made that a consistent part of his platform for most of his national political prominence, repeatedly lying about the nature of stories critical of his administration. He has claimed that anonymous sources are often made up and them being cited should demean a story and that overall, the news media is guilty of “collusion” with Democrats and conspiring against his agenda, which he of course routinely equates to the very soul of America itself or something. For millions of his followers, he has turned members of the media into the enemy because they dared come close to insulting his ego.
At numerous Trump rallies and in what likely will be a continuing trend as the 2020 election gets closer, Trump fans have verbally and sometimes physically intensely harassed reporters. As The Guardian shares, the Committee to Protect Journalists has “expressed concern about the safety of journalists covering Trump rallies, where they have been the target of derision and abuse from the president and his supporters.”
One of his supporters took the rhetoric to an extreme and mailed explosive devices to prominent “opposition” interests like CNN. Although the devices did not detonate, the threat remains — as Trump seems to be ready and willing to joke about.
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