The freedom of the press is a cornerstone of American democracy. Recent comments by President Joe Biden highlight his belief that his predecessor, Donald Trump, represents an unprecedented danger to this essential institution.

Biden warned that Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric towards journalists and news outlets threatens to undermine their critical role as government watchdogs.

Biden Speaks Out Against Trump’s Attacks on the Media

President Biden issued a stern warning recently that former President Trump’s attacks on the media represent an unprecedented threat to press freedom. At a press briefing in California, Biden told reporters that two journalists had confided in him that if Trump were re-elected, they would have to flee the country to avoid imprisonment, citing Trump’s threats against the media.

Source: Drew Angerer

Former President Trump has long embraced an antagonistic relationship with many media organizations and journalists. During his time in office, Trump frequently referred to media outlets as “the enemy of the people” and “fake news.”

A Threat to Democratic Values

President Biden argued that Trump’s approach represents a threat to core democratic values. “No president since the Civil War has done that – embrace it, encourage it,” Biden said, referring to political violence.

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Censorship and imprisonment of journalists are tactics more common in authoritarian regimes, not democracies. Biden’s warning underscores that threats to press freedom and democratic norms did not end with Trump’s presidency.

Trump’s Concerning Record on Press Freedom

Trump’s threats of legal consequences and violence toward members of the press are extremely alarming and threaten the democratic principles of free speech enshrined in the First Amendment. During his presidency, Trump frequently criticized journalists and news organizations that published unfavorable coverage of his administration, referring to them as “the enemy of the people.”

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According to President Biden, Trump personally told two journalists that “if he wins, they will have to leave the country because he’s threatened to put them in jail.” These threats exemplify Trump’s disregard for press freedom and the role of the media as a government watchdog.

Spreading of “Fake News” Rhetoric

Trump frequently accused reputable news organizations of publishing “fake news” to discredit critical reporting. He claimed that over 90% of news coverage about his administration was “negative (fake).” This rhetoric undermines public trust in the media and the integrity of factual reporting.

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The Trump administration pursued legal action against journalists and whistleblowers at an unprecedented rate. During Trump’s first two years in office, his administration conducted eight leak investigations, more than double that of Obama’s entire presidency.

A Return to Traditional Values

Biden has pledged to uphold principles of press freedom and transparency. Reversing Trump’s policies, Biden’s administration has recommitted to daily White House press briefings and reinstated press access for outlets banned under Trump.

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However, some critics argue the administration has not gone far enough, pointing out that it has failed to drop charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who remains imprisoned for publishing classified documents.

The Dangers of Undermining Trust in Journalism

As President Biden warned, the previous administration posed an unprecedented threat to press freedom. According to Biden, journalists were personally told that should the former President win re-election, they would have to flee the country to avoid imprisonment.

Source: Evan Vucci

Such overt threats to restrict the free press are extremely disturbing and go against the democratic principles on which the nation was built. A free and independent press is essential to a functioning democracy. When public trust in the media is undermined, and journalists are threatened with legal consequences for doing their jobs, it paves the way for the spread of misinformation and ‘alternative facts’.

The Role of the Public

While politicians hold much of the blame for damaging trust in the press, the public also plays a role. When readers unquestioningly accept claims of ‘fake news’ and biased reporting, it encourages those in power to escalate attacks on the media.

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At the same time, refusing to acknowledge legitimate errors and failures also undermines credibility. Members of the public should think critically about the news they consume but also stand up for the rights of journalists and the value of a free press.

Commitment to Transparency

President Biden promised to roll back policies from the previous administration that limited journalists’ access to information. Biden criticized officials who “claimed to support the First Amendment [but] just didn’t think it applied in our case.”

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Biden’s administration has already taken steps to increase government transparency, such as revoking executive orders that restricted public access to presidential records. Biden also pledged to strengthen legal protections for government whistleblowers who report wrongdoing.

Steps the New Administration Can Take to Support the Media

The Biden administration has an opportunity to strengthen protections for the free press and support journalists in their important work. Some actions the new administration could take. Passing legislation to prohibit the jailing of journalists for doing their jobs.

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The administration should work with Congress to enact laws preventing the prosecution of journalists under espionage laws for publishing classified information. Such laws threaten press freedom and the public’s right to government transparency.

Why a Free Press Is Essential to Democracy

A free press is fundamental to a functioning democracy. When those in power restrict the press, the public is deprived of crucial information that is necessary to make informed decisions and hold leaders accountable.

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The fate of journalists like Alexei Navalny and Julian Assange serve as chilling reminders of what can happen when governments crack down on the press. Navalny was imprisoned in Russia for his opposition to Putin, while Assange faces extradition to the U.S. for publishing classified documents that exposed government wrongdoing.

How the Public Can Help Safeguard Press Freedom

The public plays an essential role in protecting press freedom and holding politicians accountable. By staying informed about current events and media issues, citizens can support independent journalism and call out threats to free speech.

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Media literacy is crucial. Members of the public should strive to identify credible news sources, verify facts, and think critically about the information they consume. They can support reputable media organizations through subscriptions, donations, and shares on social media.

Free Press Is a Cornerstone of Democracy

Biden’s pointed words serve as an important reminder that a free press is a cornerstone of democracy. Though some may argue the media is biased, the role of journalism in providing transparency and holding the powerful accountable should not be diminished or attacked.

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It remains to be seen whether the media and public take heed of Biden’s warning, but his candid words offer a sobering perspective on the gravity of the current political climate. Moving forward, the stakes are high, and the need to protect press freedom as enshrined in the First Amendment is perhaps more critical than ever before.

Press Freedom Under Threat

In his address to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, President Biden warned of the dangers posed to press freedom and American democracy by his predecessor. While Trump is no longer in office, the threat remains as long as he continues to spread misinformation and undermine trust in the media.

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Biden’s speech served as a reminder that leaders must defend the principles of free speech and transparency that are fundamental to this nation’s values. Though the challenges are ongoing, the President made clear his commitment to push back against forces that would restrict the work of a free press.