Opinion: Attacks on free press during protests are detrimental
In order to have a functioning democracy we need press coverage
Editor's note: The byline and photo attribution of this article have been changed since it was first published to update Samantha Margot's new last name.
In December 2018, the United States entered the top five worst countries for free press. In May 2020, the world turned to watch the U.S. government treat its homeland as a war zone. Military helicopters hovered over cities, chemical weapons were enforced on George Floyd supporters and federal strength was propagated across the country, in an attempt to assume some supposed dominance.
Historically, the United States has been quick to blacklist any country that blatantly silences and subdues its citizens and free press. In a striking role reversal, deteriorating human and political rights have gone hand in hand to establish the nation as one of the countries we would have swiftly condemned.
Demonstrations in favor of basic human rights promptly became an attack on free speech, when peaceful participants were treated to extreme shows of force and harassment by police officers and military personnel in an effort to silence pro-Black sentiment.
Since May 26, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has seen over 250 reported violations of press freedom across the United States. CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his crew were arrested after clearly stating they were broadcasting live, ABC7 reporter Tom Roussey was among a crowd of people forcefully removed during a White House demonstration while a nearby cameraman was hit by police with a shield, student journalist Jules Lerner was maced three separate times, and freelance photographer Linda Tirado was left permanently blind in her left eye after being shot with what she thought was a rubber bullet coming from the direction of the police. The instances of unlawful arrests and assaults on media crews continue to rise alongside the calls that Black Lives Matter.
On the flip side of government censorship, rising anger among protestors for the biased coverage of George Floyd demonstrations is giving way to anti-media chants and vandalism. The call outs aren’t solely for left wing mainstream media: Outside the White House, unsurprisingly, a Fox News crew was attacked while reporting on the scene and later found their van defaced.
We need to think about how dangerous all this anti-media sentiment is.
Journalism is the backbone of any democracy; it allows people to obtain information from a wide range of sources not dictated by the government. Anti-media sentiment opens the door to the creation of a country that lives for one line of rhetoric. This line of reasoning isn’t an attempt to invalidate or discourage any anger directed at the media. Bowing to the whims of big business or federal threat goes against the mission of any news outlet, which is to provide an open dialogue that holds any leader, institution, and government accountable with accurate and inclusive reporting.
In discrediting the press, the Donald Trump administration has widened the path for more obvious far right propaganda. Some of the most recent examples of this include the executive order aimed at preventing Twitter from fact checking posts and President Trump running a campaign ad during what should have been a White House press briefing on the coronavirus. However, the most alarming was the unexpected clearing of demonstrators near Lafayette Park in D.C. with the use of chemical agents, followed by an impromptu stroll across the street by President Trump in an awkward attempt to project authority.
Our basic liberty to free speech is under attack. A first step toward protecting the First Amendment is protecting free press. Free press is the watchdog of government and private action, free press is necessary to maintain a functioning and healthy democracy. Without free press, there is no free speech.
We’re already combatting this by making our voices heard through protest, but the next steps involve keeping everyone educated on what the First Amendment guarantees us and throwing our weight behind credible press organizations. Brush up on the basics of freedom of speech and censorship protection, subscribe to local or international press outlets, and spread the word.
We have arrived at the culmination of a four year anti-media campaign, led by Donald Trump. Four years of accusations of treason, calls for retribution over bad press, refusals to allow journalists on White House grounds, a constant cycle of “fake news” and declarations involving “enemy of the people.” Whether we want to admit it or not, it’s all filtered through our brains and left lasting impressions on our republic.
Samantha Swainson is an undeclared rising freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences and a columnist for The Eagle.