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Fake news awards and death threats: Being a journalist in the Trump era

Posted: Jan. 18, 2018 | Tags: Newseum


Photo by Kevin Allen

From left, journalists Melinda Henneberger, John Roberts and April Ryan talk about covering the Trump presidency.

Since announcing his run for the presidency in June 2015, Donald Trump has used Twitter to criticize the media at least 1,000 times. He has used the term fake news in nearly 200 Tweets. He has denounced The New York Times, CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC as “the enemy of the American People!”

On Wednesday night, President Trump continued his public condemnation of the press by announcing the 2017 Fake News Awards on Twitter to his 46.8 million followers. The names of the “winners” were released on the Grand Old Party’s website. CNN received four “awards,” the most of any news organization.

Wednesday night, as the inaugural Fake News Awards were being touted on social media by the president of the United States, hundreds of people gathered at the Newseum for a discussion about press freedom in the Trump era. Jim Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent, who has had several memorable — if not infamous — spats with President Trump and members of his staff, was among the participants.

“I would say, having been called ‘fake news’ myself, that the president of the United States is the king of fake news,” Acosta said. “It’s an insult to every journalist around the world to be even handing out fake news awards.”

The Washington Post, which also received a fake-news nod, has been keeping track of President Trump’s own false or misleading claims. The Post’s fact-checking team noted more than 2,000 inaccurate statements made by the president since he took office in January 2016.

In contrast, 11 Fake News Awards were given to six news organizations last night, including a general grievance for the “Russia Collusion” investigation.

President Trump’s continued assault on the press, including his persistent accusations of “fake news,” has not only had reverberations in the United States, but also the world at large.

“There’s a lot of evidence of a Trump effect when it comes to global press freedom,” Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said at the Newseum event. “Leaders from a dozen countries, including Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Myanmar, China, Cambodia, they’ve all embraced the term fake news and use it to de-legitimize critical journalism that they don’t like.”

In 2017, 44 journalists were killed around the world and 262 were either imprisoned or remained incarcerated. Recently, the Committee to Protect Journalists teamed up with more than two dozen other groups to create the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which collects and details information about press violations in the United States. According to the website, journalists were arrested 34 times last year. The majority of those arrests occurred at protests in St. Louis, Washington and the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

There were also 44 physical attacks on journalists in 2017. These attacks were carried out by white nationalists, anti-fascists, public citizens, the police and even politicians. Journalists were pepper sprayed, punched and kicked, beaten with batons and pipes, threatened with knives, and one local newspaper editor was even shot when a sheriff’s deputy mistook his camera for a gun. No journalist was killed in the United States last year; however, the threat remains, even for seasoned members of the White House press corps.

April Ryan, a White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks and a CNN political analyst, who has covered four different presidents and recently made headlines for asking President Trump if he’s a racist, knows the threat all too well.

“I’ve been getting death threats just for asking a question,” she said. “It’s a sad day when you have to ask a sitting U.S. president if he’s a racist.”

Acosta, who has had similar experiences, praised Ryan’s line of questioning. “I absolutely receive death threats,” Acosta said. “When the president of the United States says you’re coming from a 'shithole' country if you come from Africa and that we want more people coming in from Norway,” he said, “... I’ll say it out loud, that it is our right, it is our duty, it is our role to ask the president of the United States if he’s a racist.”

He said, "People have to start thinking deeply about what’s happening to this country." Later he added, "It is our job to speak truth to power and to ask these hard questions every day.”

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