Contrasting messages from Biden and Trump on World Press Freedom Day

By Rishika Dugyala

Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump sent starkly different messages about the role of the media on Sunday, a date that the United Nations has designated World Press Freedom Day.

Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, issued a statement praising journalists for “upholding free and open democracies, both here at home and around the world.”

Trump, by contrast, began his day by tweeting: “The Fake News doesn’t show real polls. Lamestream Media is totally CORRUPT, the Enemy of the People!”

He was referring to his claim that he has a 96 percent approval rating in the Republican Party. The Gallup poll Trump pointed to had found a 94 percent approval among Republican voters and 49 percent approval overall — the highest of his presidency. He then targeted NBC News and CNN for “going out of their way to say GREAT things about China” amid the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in that country.

Trump rounded out the day with a Fox News virtual town hall at the Lincoln Memorial, where he declared that he faces a hostile press and is treated worse than President Abraham Lincoln.

“You see it: 94 or 95 percent of the press is hostile,“ Trump said. “We have tremendous support, but the media might as well be in the Democrat Party. Why? I don't know.“

The president has repeatedly railed against the media since his 2016 campaign. At recent White House coronavirus briefings, Trump has clashed with reporters about their coverage of his administration and how he has handled the health crisis. Even last weekend, with no briefings on the schedule, Trump kept offering stinging rebukes via Twitter.

At Sunday‘s town hall, Trump said reporters ask him “disgraceful" and “horrible, horrendous, biased“ questions during these briefings. “I feel if I was kind to them, I‘d be — I‘d be walked off the stage,“ he added.

In a statement on Sunday, Biden took the president to task, accusing Trump of launching an “all-out assault on the media” by labeling journalists “the enemy of the people” and their reporting “fake news.”

Biden said Trump “bullies and berates” the press, an approach that he said was particularly offensive during the pandemic, which has resulted in more than 1.1 million cases and claimed more than 67,000 lives in the U.S. alone.

“Donald Trump’s repeated efforts to demonize the media put us on such a dangerous path,” he wrote, adding: “While many presidents have been unhappy with their media coverage, only Donald Trump has attacked the independence of journalists and launched an all-out assault on the media.”

The Democrat ended by promising that in a Biden White House, there would be mutual respect and “no bullying of the media from the press room podium or by tweet.”

The UN General Assembly in 1993 declared May 3 as World Press Freedom Day, a recognition that it says “acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom.”

“It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics,” the UN says. “It is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence; and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.”