Boy, how things have changed since Barack Obama left the White House. Nowhere is that more clear than respect for the free press, which has plummeted since Donald Trump took power.
As Rachel Maddow laid out on Wednesday night, the new administration isn’t even trying to pretend they respect the First Amendment. It’s particularly clear when one compares it to the way the previous White House treated the media.
Maddow showed a clip of then-President Barack Obama urging Cuban President Raul Castro to take a question from NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who he called an “esteemed journalist,” reminding us how American leaders are supposed to act when they’re in countries that restrict reporters’ rights.
That is how the U.S. government usually handles foreign leaders’ mistreatment, foreign leaders’ disrespect, foreign leaders’ disregard of American reporters and the whole idea of a press. That’s what we expect of American presidents, of American secretaries of state because we have a free press in this country and ostensibly the United States government believes and promotes the fact that there should be a free press everywhere. Part of the basic way we do that as a government is that our government officials, particularly like the president, the secretary of state, they model what it means to respect the free press, to respond to the free press. We model what that means by, in part, standing up for American reporters when our government goes abroad and leaders from other countries disrespect them.
Fast-forward to present day, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went to anti-free press Russia and an American reporter had the nerve to do her job and ask a question. This time, though, there was no respect for her from leaders in either country.
Instead, when the Russian foreign minister shouted at her and questioned her “manners,” Tillerson simply gave a smug smile and put on his glasses, which was actually pretty “astounding,” as Maddow pointed out.
Not only is Tillerson’s behavior in front of the Russians a break from the tradition of previous American leaders of both parties, but it also encourages countries like Russia to continue oppressing its own journalists.
America does it now, so why shouldn’t they continue doing so?
If there was ever a time for a secretary of state to promote the universal value of a free and open press, that would have been it. But Tillerson just smiled and ignored the question – essentially validating the Russian minister’s despicable treatment of an American reporter.