Committee to Protect Journalists brands Trump an ‘unprecedented threat’ to press freedom

The Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday issued a scorching condemnation of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as a threat to press freedom “unknown in modern history.”

The independent nonprofit, which defends the rights of journalists, acknowledged that its denunciation was “an unprecedented step” and that it was sparked by the billionaire mogul’s threats against journalists and vilification of the media.

Sandra Mims Rowe, the chairman of CPJ’s board, said in a statement that Trump consistently betrays First Amendment values. She also noted that her organization passed a resolution on Oct. 6 declaring him an “unprecedented threat to the rights of journalists” and their ability to advocate for press freedom throughout the world.

“Since the beginning of his candidacy, Trump has insulted and vilified the press and has made his opposition to the media a centerpiece of his campaign. Trump has routinely labeled the press as ‘dishonest’ and ‘scum’ and singled out individual news organizations and journalists,” she said.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to the crowd during a campaign rally, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Cincinnati. (Photo: John Minchillo/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to the crowd during a campaign rally, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Cincinnati. (Photo: John Minchillo/AP)

Trump routinely declares at his rallies that reporters are some of “the worst human beings in the world.” But he took his media criticism a step further on Thursday by asserting that women’s accusations of sexual misconduct were part of a media conspiracy to elect Democrat Hillary Clinton.

For her part, Rowe, a former editor of the Oregonian newspaper, cited various times he publicly demeaned journalists: mocking a New York Times reporter with a disability, calling an ABC News reporter “sleaze” and kicking a Univision anchor out of a press conference for asking an “impertinent” question. She said Trump has refused to condemn attacks against journalists by some of his supporters and has denied press credentials to new outlets that have been critical of his campaign.

She also criticized Trump’s vague proposals to restrict basic freedoms of the press and Internet. For instance, at a February rally he declared that he would “open up our libel laws” so that he could sue anyone who writes “purposely negative and horrible and false articles.” He has also tweeted these sorts of hazy threats.

“While some have suggested that these statements are rhetorical, we take Trump at his word. His intent and his disregard for the constitutional free press principle are clear,” Rowe continued.

According to the CPJ, a founding principle of the United States is the free flow of information through an independent press, but Trump — through his words and actions — has demonstrated contempt for the press’s performing any role other than advancing his own interests.

“A Trump presidency would represent a threat to press freedom in the United States, but the consequences for the rights of journalists around the world could be far more serious,” Rowe said. “Any failure of the United States to uphold its own standards emboldens dictators and despots to restrict the media in their own countries. This appears to be of no concern to Trump, who indicated that he has no inclination to challenge governments on press freedom and the treatment of journalists.”

An attorney for Trump recently sent a letter to the New York Times threatening to sue the paper for libel if it did not remove a story on two women’s allegations against the businessman and issue a retraction. The Times stood by its story and defended its right to report “newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern.”