For all of Donald Trump’s endless bluster about the media, and for all his desire to emulate Vladimir Putin’s murderous reign, Trump has largely spent 2017 being full of hot air. He’s not having journalists killed. He hasn’t tried to outlaw political reporting. As per usual, Trump is all talk and no action. But in the past week, something tangible has changed – and now it suddenly is a dangerous time to be a political journalist in America.
I’m not referring to the fact that Trump falsely accused MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough of murdering a woman last week, though that was certainly chilling. If our democracy were fully functioning, Trump would have been ousted from office by the time he finished typing that tweet. Instead I’m referring to two other specific incidents in which journalists were punished by their employers for the sole purpose of trying to appease Trump and his goons.
On the day Michael Flynn cut his devastating plea deal against Donald Trump, ABC News reporter Brian Ross made what could at worst be described as a minor semantic error in describing what Flynn had agreed to give up about Trump. But Trump’s allies immediately invented a false narrative about Ross having willfully reported a fake story to try to hurt Trump. They even falsely claimed that Ross caused the stock market to crash. In reality the market did slightly dip on that day, but the news about Flynn’s deal was coming so fast and furious that it would be impossible to attribute the dip to anything Ross said.
In a blatant and cowardly attempt at appeasing Trump and his allies, ABC News wrongfully suspended Brian Ross without pay for four weeks. In so doing, it permanently damaged his reputation and career without legitimate reason. ABC simply didn’t want Trump to do to its reputation what he’s long been doing to CNN’s reputation. It turns out ABC News isn’t the only cowardly corporate appeaser this week.
One of Trump’s “pizzagate” allies dug up an eight year old tweet from MSNBC contributor Sam Seder. The tweet was clearly sarcastic in nature, and was aimed at shaming those who give a free pass to child rape for ideological reasons. Yet Trump’s goons insisted that Seder was seriously advocating child rape. Sure enough, MSBNC fired Seder today, even though he had done literally nothing wrong. This was, once again, an attempt at appeasing Trump and his allies and nothing more.
Last week, even as Donald Trump was falsely accusing MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough of murder, he also seemed to imply that he’s been blackmailing MSNBC chairman Andy Lack (link). Now, just days later, Lack has signed off on the firing of Sam Seder, simply to appease the Trump camp. This raises some very scary questions. From a career and reputation perspective, It’s suddenly become a dangerous time to be an American political journalist. Trump is now successfully baiting corporate media bosses into destroying whichever reporters he wants destroyed. How long before he finds a way to get journalists wrongfully imprisoned or killed?
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report