From Strategic Culture
Donald Trump - Caricature
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US President Trump's threats this week to shut down critical news media is an ominous sign of how fragile American democratic rights have become.
For Donald Trump to impugn media freedom -- albeit in his usual whimsical, boorish fashion -- nevertheless shows how far democracy has been eroded in the "land of the free."
The latest furore followed a report this week by NBC in which Trump purportedly harangued his top Pentagon advisers for a 10-fold increase in the US nuclear weapons arsenal.
Trump's outlandish demand was reportedly made during a high-level national security meeting back in July. It was the same meeting during which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is said to have scoffed at Trump's antics and called him a "moron."
Trump has reacted angrily to the reports, dismissing them with his characteristic jargon as "fake news."
But, adding to the furore, the president also went on to question whether the broadcasting license of NBC and other networks should be cancelled because of what Trump views as "fake news." That is, the president is speculating on shutting down media outlets.
Such a move by a president would be legally unviable, according to US laws. But it shows the kind of slippery slope that US media and democratic rights are on.
Trump's latest musing about shutting down NBC and other channels drew predictable outcry from US media, who rightly to a degree, deplored his attack on democratic rights.
The irony is, however, that the attack on American democratic rights has already been underway before Trump entered the White House, and without much protest from the same media outlets who are now railing against Trump over this rant. We can point to the increasing surveillance powers of federal intelligence agencies which have steadily encroached since the September 2001 terror incidents in New York and Washington DC.
Media freedom in the US has been under assault for a long time.
Trump's latest outburst is not a one-off anomaly. In recent weeks, the US government has moved to severely restrict the freedom of Russia-based news media operating in the country. A move that has so far not been reciprocated by Moscow on US media operating in Russia.
Russian state-owned news channel RT has been forced to register as a "foreign agent" which will curtail how it carries out normal journalistic functions. Sputnik, another Russian state-owned channel, is also under investigation by US authorities over allegations of destabilizing American politics with "fake news."
The crimping of Russian news media is part of a wider campaign to suppress all alternative media outlets, including US-based websites, which are being labelled as agents of "foreign interests" because of merely posting articles sourced from RT and Sputnik.
The willing participation of US internet companies, Google, Twitter and Facebook, in blocking news sources that are designated "fake" or "interfering in US politics" is another troubling sign of how citizens' access to information is being curtailed. These gatekeepers of information are openly moving to restrict access to "authoritative," "respectable" media outlets. Many of these "respectable" news outlets, such as the New York Times and Washington Post, have in the past been guilty of purveying outrageously fake news, like the "weapons of mass destruction" claims which led to the 2003 US war in Iraq that killed over a million people and unleashed on the world the ongoing scourge of jihadist terrorism.
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