Trump’s Media Furore... US Democracy
On Thin Ice
By Finian Cunningham
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”.
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 rants.
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
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.
There is absolutely no credible
evidence that Russian news media or alternative
US-based sites are systematically engaged in an
“influence campaign” to destabilize American
Sure, there is plenty of false
information on the internet available through
platforms like Facebook, which most Americans now
rely on for their news feed. But to lay the blame
for this on Russian media is preposterous
scapegoating. What really is the issue here is that
US authorities and established media companies
simply can’t abide rival outlets that are providing
an alternative, critical perspective.
For example, Russia’s RT and Sputnik
have given much critical coverage on the war in
Syria, as well as conflicts in Ukraine, Yemen and
elsewhere. Both channels have reported, with
documentary evidence, on how the US government and
its NATO and regional allies have been complicit in
an illegal, covert war for regime change in Syria
involving support for extremist militant groups.
This is a critical perspective with
grave legal and political implications for
Washington and its allies. Just because the US
government does not like this kind of unflattering
coverage does not legitimize its opprobrium of “fake
news”. The latter charge is brazenly being used as a
pretext to censor discomfiting information.
There are many other international
issues where Russian media are giving a valid,
alternative viewpoint. And because official US
interests are offended by this critical perspective,
the authorities are moving to ostracize Russian
media with the spurious allegation of “foreign
agents” and “undermining American democracy”.
But the paramount issue here is that
this is an audacious attack on American democratic
rights of free media and freedom of speech, as
supposedly enshrined in the US Constitution’s First
All of the US established news media
have propagated the bogus narrative of “Russian
influence” and “Russian fake news”. This narrative
plays well for political opponents of President
Trump, primarily in the Democrat party. On this
issue, Trump is right when he denounces as “fake
news” the campaign to pillory Russia and to allege
that the Kremlin directed state-owned media to
influence the November presidential election in
There is simply no evidence that
Russian news media were or are engaged in anything
nefarious to destabilize US democracy. Russian media
have and do give critical news coverage. If that
“destabilizes” Washington’s illicit activities in
overseas’ wars then that’s what responsible
journalism should be doing. To curb this journalism
because it offends geopolitical interests is,
frankly, censorship and the actions of a tyrant.
Trump’s latest threats to shutdown
the American news channel NBC over alleged “fake
news” are indeed menacing. The NBC report on Trump’s
nuclear weapons ranting appear to be credible in any
But the outcry from US media over
Trump’s boorish threats are hypocritical. Their
concern seems to be based on a superficial contempt
for Trump as a loathsome individual – as opposed to
a principled defense of democratic rights, and media
freedom in particular.
The US media outlets that are piously
railing against Trump over his “assault on the
Fourth Estate” are the same outlets which have piled
on the pressure to suppress alternative media
outlets like Russia’s RT and Sputnik, as well as
other US-based independent information sources that
are being demonized in McCarthyite fashion as
And, again, much of this hostility
towards alternative media is motivated by the fact
that these alternative media have admirably exposed
the hypocrisy and criminality of US authorities.
Also exposed is the aiding and abetting by the
servile establishment media who have long covered up
for the US authorities and their illicit activities
in overseas’ wars and against citizens at home.
American democratic rights are indeed
on thin ice. But that was the case long before the
elephantine Trump arrived on the scene. His clumsy
lurching is merely serving to illustrate how
treacherously thin the ice has become upon which US
democracy now stands.
Cunningham has written extensively on international
affairs, with articles published in several
languages. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural
Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the
Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England,
before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. He
is also a musician and songwriter. For nearly 20
years, he worked as an editor and writer in major
news media organisations, including The Mirror,
Irish Times and Independent.
article was originally published by
Strategic Culture Foundation