WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump’s unrelenting attacks on the free press have created a “Trump effect” promoting antagonism against journalists in the U.S. and abroad, the media watchdog and advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday in its annual World Press Freedom Index.
The U.S. dropped two spots in the world ranking, to 45th, from last year. The group, also known as Reporters Sans Frontières, attributed the downgrade to Trump’s incendiary anti-press rhetoric and his attempts to curtail media access.
The rankings cite an overall decline in global press freedom, with a “climate of hatred” for the press that is “openly encouraged by political leaders.” The report said this is occurring in authoritarian countries that regularly rank at the bottom, including Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Russia, China and North Korea.
But the group also warned anti-media hatred is rising in democratic nations like the United States, which is “disappointing for the country of the First Amendment,” Margaux Ewen, the group’s North America executive director, said at an event unveiling the rankings. Reporters Without Borders blamed Trump, calling him “a media-bashing enthusiast.”
“More and more democratically elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion,” the group wrote.
Trump’s “violent anti-press rhetoric” and attempts to block access to government information has influenced local officials, and has led to the arrests of journalists for covering protests or for asking questions of public officials. Reporters also have faced violent attacks by public figures, such as Montana Republican Greg Gianforte’s body-slam of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs last year during a congressional campaign.
This “Trump effect” has spread outside the U.S., Reporters Without Borders said, citing examples of other world leaders adopting Trump’s anti-media slur “fake news” for unfavorable coverage.
Reporters Without Borders also warned against Trump’s crusade against the media in its 2017 rankings. It said the president’s rhetoric was part of “a highly toxic anti-media discourse that drove the world into a new era of post-truth, disinformation and fake news.”
While an overall decline in press freedom preceded Trump’s presidency, “the Trump effect has only served to amplify the disappointing press freedom climate,” the group wrote in this year’s report.
Ewen said that the danger is that “this rhetoric is coming down from the highest office in the country,” and sets a bad example around the world.
Reporters Without Borders presented this year’s rankings Wednesday at an event in Washington co-hosted by The Washington Post ― a frequent target of Trump’s “fake news” derision for its deep reporting on the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia.
Later Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the report as “ridiculous,” asserting without evidence that “we’re one of the most accessible administrations that we’ve seen in decades.”
Responding to reporters at the White House press briefing, she claimed that her “mere presence of standing up here and taking your questions unvetted is a pretty good example of freedom of the press.”
“We support a free press, but we also support a fair press,” she added, before calling on reporters to “provide fair and accurate information.” She went on to criticize reporters for asking questions “in a tone that is completely unnecessary, unneeded, and frankly, doesn’t help further the conversation or help the American people get any more information in a better way.”
This story has been updated with comments from Sarah Huckabee Sanders.