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The war on journalism

Last week, Jim Lucas, an Indiana state representative, drafted a controversial piece of legislation that would require journalists to obtain a license from the state police in order to work. When interviewed about it, Rep. Lucas suggested it could serve as a model for the Trump administration. While disturbingly dystopian on the surface, this notion seems more and more plausible given the president’s continued public power struggle with outlets reporting on the White House and constant beratement of so-called “fake news” that dates back to his initial bid for the presidency. From blacklisting news outlets to overseeing reviews of media subpoena policies, Trump has made it clear that the reporters holding his administration accountable have targets on their backs.

In the most recent tweet storm railing against the media, Trump called on NBC’s license to be challenged following a report detailing his advocacy of an increase in the United States nuclear arsenal. However, this online tirade didn’t stop with NBC, the president went on to say that all network licenses should be “challenged and, if appropriate, revoked.” Although he did not call for specific outlets to be silenced, Trump’s tendency towards ignoring partisan bias when it leans in his favor indicates that frequently dissenting voices would be on the chopping block. Reporters and journalists serve a central role in a democracy and are crucial for maintaining a free flow of information from the highest positions in the country to the general public. This is especially important in the era of Trump’s presidency, when information coming from the White House regularly contradicts itself as well as the Commander in Chief.

Although it may seem overplayed at this point in the Trump presidency, historicization of policy still serves to provide important context for contemporary efforts to eroding freedom of the press. As seen in Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany, control over the press is a common tactic of dictators. With Trump’s tweets this week calling for the muzzling of news networks reporting on his administration, his presidency once again echoes the actions of past authoritarians. His equation of dissenting opinions with treason—yet another forewarning of fascism— only further clarifies the parallels and squarely places him in the company of others throughout recent history who have attempted to erode the structure of their society through the regulation of knowledge.

Considering the historical precedent the Trump administration is emulating by censoring the press, it is now more important than ever to ensure that the press is protected. In order to preserve the ability of journalists to track the veracity of Trump’s comments against his actions—as well as the statements and policies of all elected officials—the public can’t allow Trump to cast doubt on his critics. However, to say the media simply needs freedom to work is not enough. There must be a steadfast commitment to supporting the hard-hitting journalism that seeks to uncover the truth, question authority and demand answers. The republic depends on it.


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