U.N. rights experts stunned by Trump’s attacks on media

Trump's hostility toward journalists supports global attacks on freedom of expression.

President Donald Trump gestures after speaking to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower  in New York. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Donald Trump gestures after speaking to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Donald Trump’s open hostility toward the media has caught the attention of U.N. human rights experts, who are accusing Trump of being in line with “general trend hostility to freedom of expression” around the world.

In a piece published on the Just Security site on Friday, David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the freedom of expression, wrote:

The recklessness of Trump’s remarks is undeniable – perhaps, to borrow from the law, ‘wanton disregard’ for the safety of journalists, even if not textbook incitement…. The bullying was a feature of a candidacy that became, all too predictably, a central aspect of this presidency.

He also wrote that Trump’s constant tweets serve to undermine not only the media, but the American public’s right to hold the government accountable:

Trump’s incendiary statements work in tandem with a pattern of lying and disinformation, both aiming to limit the accessibility of truthful information…it’s worth highlighting that regular, routinized lying aims to interfere with the public’s right to know the truth about matters of public interest.

As candidate and president, Trump has repeatedly attacked members of the press individually — from Megyn Kelly to New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski — and has routinely accused news organizations of “lying” and publishing “fake news.”

Trump has often spoken favorably of leaders, such as Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan Egypt’s Abel Fattah el-Sisi, who have enforced massive crackdowns on media in their respective countries. The Trump White House has also curtailed what the media can do at press briefings, cutting Q&A’s to as little as short as 15 minutes, and, at times, banning cameras from the room.

On Wednesday, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, also called Trump out on his attacks on the press:

It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only sort of a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution but very much something that the United States defended over the years is now itself under attack from the President. It’s sort of a stunning turnaround. And ultimately the sequence is a dangerous one.

But Zeid didn’t stop just at the media – he also expressed concern over Trump’s remarks about women, Muslims, and immigrants. He was troubled by Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio  (found guilty of criminal contempt in racially profiling Latinos in Arizona) and his defense of white nationalists, whose march in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulted in three deaths and 19 injuries.


“The President prides himself as a taboo breaker, indeed his supporters see him as such. But at the time I expressed my feeling that this was grossly irresponsible, because it has consequences, it emboldens those who may think similarly to sharpen their assaults on these communities,” said Zeid.