Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan Speaks Out on Trump Threat to Free Press

This morning on Morning Joe, co-host Mika Brzezinski asked The Washington Post‘s Margaret Sullivan to weigh in on Trump’s attacks on journalists, and the Committee to Protect Journalist calling Trump an “unprecedented threat” to a free press.

CPJ warned last week that “This is not about picking sides in an election. This is recognizing that a Trump presidency represents a threat to press freedom unknown in modern history.”

Sullivan, who has been outspoken on the sinister tone adopted by Trump, answered that “It’s been a very paradoxical relationship,” and pointed to the “free advertising” he received early in the campaign.

Watch courtesy of MSNBC:

“And now things have gotten much tougher. And as a result, he’s pushing back very, very hard. I think CPJ, the journalism rights organization, felt so strongly that they had to make a statement because they try to keep journalists safe around the world. And if press rights are threatened in America, that really has implications globally.”

Though Sullivan opined that the threat is less to the safety of journalists than to threatening press rights with changed libel laws, but Donny Deutsch pointed to “how basically, the press is in one area and they are booed and heckled and Trump actually uses that as a tool in these rallies. And it’s frightening when you see it.”

Sullivan agreed, saying,

“Yeah, it’s become a very ugly situation. And a very scary one, I think. And you know, for me, I guess I’m such a true believer, I think that journalists have such an important role in our society. It’s very, very hard to see this happening. And I’m glad that CPJ has made such a strong statement.”

Bianna Golodryga brought up the situation of journalists in Russia, where those who question Putin can be “disappeared.” “What,” she asked Sullivan, “is more frightening to you, what Donald Trump has said or the fact that so many millions of his supporters believe him and agree with him with regards to the media?”

“Yeah, he’s really riled people up and made people mistrust the media in a way that is really troubling to me because, again, I know how important our work is. And now there’s this sort of feeling that we’re evil, we’re part of this rigged conspiracy. And it’s going to be very hard to go up against that. I think that we need to start telling our story a little bit better.”

It is ironic that the mainstream media, which did so much both to build up Trump early on, not only by way of free advertising but in their initial refusal to fact-check him, is now being vilified by Trump for somehow rigging the election against him.

Really, this is just another case of Trump blaming others for being responsible for what he himself does and has done: Bill Clinton becomes the man Trump has been revealed to be, and even Hillary Clinton is accused of adultery. Trump has tried to rig two debates in his favor, and is now accusing the media of doing what he himself is doing, even though all they are really doing is, finally and at long last, their jobs as journalists.

Sullivan may have an idealistic idea of the press not shared by many Americans, disillusioned by the free advertising mainstream media outlets gave Trump, trading integrity for ratings and sales, but that does not make the threat she talks about here less real.

If the media has sometimes fallen down on the job, not all journalists have been to blame, and anyway, that time is mostly in the past, and few things Trump now says fail to be subject to fact-checking by a more diligent media, which only makes Trump’s attacks more histrionic and angry.