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Losing freedom of the press

guest column

From a multitude of perspectives, the 2016 election is in patent disarray. Many Americans on both sides of the aisle feel that the choice they face on Nov. 8 constitutes the unenviable task of deciding the lesser of two evils.

Such is the unfortunate truth of the current political landscape.

One of the most dangerous precedents of this election will be its impact on the freedom of the press, a pillar of our free and open democracy. Both major party nominees have exhibited a recurrent disdain for the press, and it is only logical that such attitudes would persist in the White House. Donald Trump has mercilessly mocked a disabled reporter and has even employed the Orwellian tactic of barring news organizations from his campaign whose coverage he deemed slanderous. Such techniques invoke images of Soviet Russia rather than a vibrant, 21st-century democracy.

Secretary Hillary Clinton fares only slightly better on this issue. She went over nine months without holding a press conference between December 2015 and September 2016. Does she intend to continue this behavior as President? While many may excuse Secretary Clinton’s reclusiveness by comparing it to the conduct of Trump, her actions are only slightly less perturbing.

Both of these examples serve as a stark premonition for toxic press relations when one of these two candidates claims the White House in November. The Constitution establishes many checks within the government that attempt to limit the power of the President. The media, however, represents a different type of check that, despite its status as a non-governmental entity, attains the same end of preventing an all-powerful presidency. In every column or news report covering the White House, the press seeks answers to the most pressing questions on the minds of the American people and ensures that the President remains accountable to those who elected him or her in the first place. Its profound importance in the process of governing cannot be underestimated.

Past presidents have treated their relationship with the press with the gravity that it warrants. President Barack Obama, whose relationship with the press has been far from perfect, has held over 150 press conferences since taking office and lauded the media at the 2016 White House Correspondence Dinner for “pushing to shine a light on the truth every single day.” Other presidents have gone further than those kind words. President Jimmy Carter would even play softball with the press corps as a token of geniality. In short, despite the inevitable conflicts on policy or reporting, presidents have been able to form a working relationship with the members of the media who cover them.

Given their past behaviors, Clinton and Trump unequivocally diverge from the conventional rapport between the president and the press. Trump’s labeling of the press as “some of the worst people I have ever met” and his proclivity to silence dissenting opinions holds no precedent in the White House. It seems dubious at best that Trump could establish any productive relationship with his White House press corps. Secretary Clinton’s unwillingness to meet the press on their turf, through a press conference, again holds no precedent in the nation’s highest office.

On Jan. 20, 2017, either Secretary Clinton or Trump will assume the presidency. Ignoring their various positions (or lack thereof) on substantive policy issues, both candidates wield an abysmal record in their dealings with the media. The inauguration of one of these candidates represents a loss for freedom of the press, and for American democracy as a whole. 

Ian Buchanan

Ian Buchanan is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "let freedom ring," runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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