The presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee tweeted an extensive statement marking the day, which is meant to acknowledge the importance of journalists in upholding democracy around the world.
“A free press is essential to a free society. Tyrants know this all too well. That is why attacking the press and attempting to intimidate independent media is a standard part of the authoritarian playbook,” Biden said. “And, it’s why Donald Trump’s repeated efforts to demonize the media put us on such a dangerous path.”
Attacking the press has been one of Trump’s most frequent pastimes since his campaign for the 2016 presidential election. The president has long fostered distrust of journalists and mainstream news outlets by attacking reporters at his rallies, during press gaggles and on Twitter, all while spreading lies and misinformation. The tactic has prompted many of his supporters to stop listening to those whose job is to tell the truth and, in some instances, threaten journalists with harassment and violence.
“Trump deflects legitimate questions with attacks. He bullies and berates individual members of the press, rather than take responsibility for his failures of leadership. His efforts to undermine public confidence in the integrity of fact-based reporting violate our core American values and threaten our very system government,” Biden said. “And, it is particularly offensive to see the White House seek to spread misinformation and bully reporters in the midst of a global pandemic.”
Trump has increased his attacks on the media as the nation struggles to combat the coronavirus pandemic. His daily press briefings with the White House’s coronavirus task force started out with reporters seeking science-based updates on the virus — and quickly devolved into something akin to a Trump campaign rally. When reporters try to address the president’s lies or seek clarification on conflicting information, Trump calls journalists “dishonest,” their questions “nasty,” their employer “fake news,” and the general media “angry.”
Leaders must approach a crisis by presenting information in a way that is clear, consistent and credible, Frank Sesno, a former CNN journalist who now serves as director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, previously told HuffPost.
“So to present information in a divisive way … or to attack messengers so that people doubt what they are seeing ― this is a damaging thing,” Sesno said. “And while the president may feel that he is taking a shot at the media and the media deserve it ― and fair enough, some of them may ― what he’s really doing is he’s further reinforcing his own role as a divisive person who criticizes and attacks. Now is not the time to criticize and attack.”
In his statement, Biden said that, as president, he would bring back a relationship between the White House and the press “that is grounded in mutual respect, even ― and especially when ― they critique policies or positions of my administration.”
At least 360 people around the world are currently imprisoned for their reporting, according to Reporters Without Borders, which ranks the U.S. 45th out of 180 countries in press freedom.
In 2019, at least 25 journalists died while doing their job — at least 10 of whom were murdered for their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The committee released a report in April detailing how the Trump administration’s attacks on press credibility endanger the nation’s democracy and global press freedom.
“Journalists in the U.S. have been largely undeterred by the daily barrage of pressure, insults, and abuse emanating from President Trump,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement when the report was released. “But the president’s attacks on the media have had an impact. They have undermined public trust in journalism as an institution, a dangerous place to find ourselves in the midst of a public health emergency. And they have empowered autocrats around the world who are cracking down on press freedom with unbridled ferocity at a time when truthful information is more than ever a precious commodity.”
Here’s how Trump commended journalists on World Press Freedom Day: