Voices: Amid Trump’s threats, the US needs to do more to protect journalists


So, I am going to say it loud and clear: I became a journalist because I watched a film and read a book about two reporters bringing down the most powerful person in the world without firing a shot.

It’s sustained me ever since: the good that journalism does, the wrongs it exposes, the corruption it highlights, the weak and vulnerable it assists.

Where would our world be without the ability of journalists to question and to investigate? How strong would our democracy be if they could not go about their business?

Which is why it is so alarming, possibly terrifying should he ever regain the presidency, that Donald Trump is calling for the jailing of the reporter at Politico who broke the leak that the Supreme Court was overturning Roe v Wade. Efforts to find who leaked the information have come to naught.

The reporter is refusing to cooperate, so Trump is repeating a plea he made in a speech last November on the same subject when he said the journalist would likely face sexual assault in prison and would then reveal the source.

Here he goes again. In one sense, it is easy to dismiss Trump’s attack. He’s said it before, he’s not president and he may not be again. Turning on the media when it suits him is not new either. After it was reported that he was taken to a bunker during civil rights protests he demanded the journalists be charged with treason.

He also stands accused of hypocrisy, as someone who has courted the media when it suited him, telling individual journalists all manner of indiscretions to damage perceived enemies and bolster the image and career of Donald Trump.

His personal behaviour matters not one jot – we have grown used to Trump playing fast and loose, saying one thing to one person and something entirely different to another. The charge of hypocrite really would not concern him.

No, what is worrying here is that Trump mused about putting reporters in jail while he was president, that he discussed with his advisors how to bypass the First Amendment, and his reign coincided with record arrests of journalists and numerous other attempts to curb their freedom. And it ended with the Capitol Hill insurrection and rioters smashing camera equipment and writing “Murder the Media” on the democratic citadel itself.

If Trump was a lone has-been I would not be so bothered. But he’s not, not yet. He may come again and besides he still has his support. What is more, in launching his anti-press diatribes, he is choosing to do so on the highly-charged ground of Roe v Wade. If anything played into the hands of Trump, the conspirator-general, it is that one.

Every cell of his antennae is wired to destroying what he sees to be the liberal elite, his sworn opponents, the very people presumably backing the journalist for not divulging the source, for not as Trump so nicely and typically puts it, providing “the name of this slime”.

Neither, on the world stage, is Trump’s voice so isolated. As authoritarian regimes have risen, so has the oppression of journalists. Last year saw dozens of journalists killed worldwide, while detentions reached an all-time high.

Trump has his followers inside and outside the US, people in places who can seize on his lead and are in positions to put his views into practice.

One curiosity is that the US ringfences the First Amendment but does little via statute to protect its journalists. That needs to change, and quickly.

This, though, should provoke more. It’s a wake-up call. We’ve had the Capitol riot; we’ve had the charges of vote-stealing and election-grabbing. We’ve seen Trump turn on the media previously. Now, he’s having another go, with renewed force, with Roe v Wade and the authority of the Supreme Court no less underpinning him. We’re clinging to a slope with democracy and all we stand for at the top and dictatorship at the bottom, and we’re in danger of letting go and sliding.

Hopefully, enough people – not just those he so despises – but the sort he professes to identify with, will tell Trump to cease. And not just Trump but the mini-Trumps who parrot his outpourings.

Martin Niemōller’s famous Holocaust poem does not reference journalists, but as a protest sign once suggested: “First they came for the journalists. We don’t know what happened after that.”

This is one battle that society cannot afford to lose. Surely, the examples of Niemōller and All the President’s Men teach us that