24 hours illustrating why Trump is a threat to press freedom

“Absolute scum. They’re totally dishonest people.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen on screens in the media center during the presidential debate between Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Hempstead, N.Y. CREDIT: AP Photo/John Locher
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen on screens in the media center during the presidential debate between Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Hempstead, N.Y. CREDIT: AP Photo/John Locher

In the hours since a number of women stepped forward to accuse Donald Trump of sexual assault on Wednesday, Trump has vowed to sue the New York Times for reporting two of the women’s stories and smeared journalists at a rally.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the new allegations emerged, Trump told supporters at his Florida rally on Thursday, “The corporate media in our country is no longer involved in journalism. They are [a] political special interest.”

Trump’s speech came after campaign surrogate Rudy Giuliani broadsided the media for reporting on the Trump allegations during his own speech. It also inspired rally attendees to lash out at reporters covering the event.

This isn’t the first time journalists have been the targets of vitriol from Trump rally attendees.

Trump’s threat to press freedoms

Around the same time Trump was smearing the media, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) declared Trump to be a threat to press freedoms throughout the world.

In a move unprecedented in CPJ’s 35-year history, the nonprofit organization released a statement on Thursday that says, “Trump, through his words and actions as a candidate for president of the United States, has consistently betrayed First Amendment values.”

“Since the beginning of his candidacy, Trump has insulted and vilified the press and has made his opposition to the media a centerpiece of his campaign,” the statement, attributed to CPJ chairman Sandra Mims Rowe, continues. “Trump has routinely labeled the press as ‘dishonest’ and ‘scum’ and singled out individual news organizations and journalists.”

Mims Rowe’s statement goes on to cite a number of examples of Trump mocking, insulting, and expelling journalists from events. Many of them are included in this CNN compilation of Trump smearing the media.

The statement then mentions oft-repeated threats to sue media outlets when they cover him unfavorably, citing his vow in February to “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”

The New York Times’ lawyers, for what it’s worth, said Thursday they aren’t worried about Trump potentially suing the paper for its reporting on the sexual assault allegations.

But the CPJ isn’t just concerns about the impact a President Trump could have on press freedoms at home.

“A Trump presidency would represent a threat to press freedom in the United States, but the consequences for the rights of journalists around the world could be far more serious,” Mims Rowe writes. “Any failure of the United States to uphold its own standards emboldens dictators and despots to restrict the media in their own countries. This appears to be of no concern to Trump, who indicated that he has no inclination to challenge governments on press freedom and the treatment of journalists.”

Indeed, Trump has praised Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, calling the man presiding over a country where opposition leaders and journalists have been killed under mysterious circumstances “highly respected within his own country and beyond.”

“For this reason CPJ is taking the unprecedented step of speaking out now. This is not about picking sides in an election,” the CPJ statement concludes. “This is recognizing that a Trump presidency represents a threat to press freedom unknown in modern history.”