On Wednesday evening, Fox News host Chris Wallace made the bizarre claim that “President Trump is engaged in the most direct sustained assault on freedom of the press in our history.” He made this claim during a speech at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., and I can’t help wondering how bad Wallace’s memory must be for him to say that.
“He has done everything he can to undercut the media, to try and delegitimize us, and I think his purpose is clear: to raise doubts when we report critically about him and his administration that we can be trusted,” Wallace said. “Back in 2017, he tweeted something that said far more about him than it did about us: ‘The fake news media is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people.’”
So, Trump says bad things about the media, which is so biased against Trump — coverage of him has been over 90 percent negative. Not only is coverage of him blatantly negative, but that oftentimes has resulted in false reports that have required retractions, because the media chooses to report negative stories without verification.
Sharyl Attkisson has been documenting these examples on her website. As of Wednesday, December 11, she’s compiled 104 media mistakes during the Trump era. Wallace seems to be ignoring the fact that when the media deliberately abuses the trust of the American public, it is not serving our interests. When they ignore eight years of corruption under Obama but rush to judgment on any negative scoop on Trump, they aren’t speaking truth to power or holding the powerful accountable, they are abusing their power.
But, what makes Wallace’s claim so bizarre is that he must remember Barack Obama’s constant attacks on Fox News, the network he works for. Newsweek literally described the conflict between Obama and Fox as “a war.” But, let’s not pretend Obama only had a beef with Fox. Obama’s attitude toward the media was so bad that New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan criticized the Obama administration in 2013 for its “unprecedented secrecy and unprecedented attacks on a free press.” She wasn’t alone either. In 2013, David E. Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, said the Obama administration was “the most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered.”
Obama wanted good media, and actually sought ways to force government monitors into newsrooms to protect his image. With the FCC under his control, a new program was proposed that would put FCC agents in media newsrooms “to determine how stories were selected, whether there was bias in reporting,” and whether “critical information needs” were being met. But hey, I guess that isn’t as bad as a couple of mean tweets from Trump, right? The only reason that program never came to fruition was that then-FCC commissioner (now chairman) Ajit Pai blew the whistle on the program in 2014.
Trump may be critical of how the media covers him—and quite frankly, he has every right to be—but Obama was literally threatening journalists for negative coverage. During the infamous sequester cuts Obama tried to blame on Republicans, he was less than thrilled when veteran journalist Bob Woodward exposed Obama’s direct role in choosing what got cut, so much so that a senior White House official warned him he would “regret” calling Obama out for his role. Woodward was unshaken by the threat and went public with it. Once he came forward, other journalists started coming out of the woodwork with stories of similar experiences.
Chris Wallace surely hasn’t forgotten how the Obama administration secretly obtained then-Fox News reporter James Rosen’s phone records, tracked his movements, and read his emails. It seems like a hard thing to forget that the government was spying on a journalist in order to find out the identity of a whistleblower.
But, hey, Trump said some pretty mean stuff in a tweet.
In light of the Ukraine whistleblower story that has everyone waxing poetic about how important it is to protect journalists when they expose abuses of power, it seems bizarre to ignore Obama’s treatment of whistleblowers and the journalists they spoke with. Obama tried to put journalists in jail simply for doing their jobs! The Obama administration didn’t just spy on James Rosen, they labeled him a “co-conspirator” with one of his sources who was charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917 for leaking the information to Rosen, and threatened him with jail time. Another journalist, James Risen (then of the New York Times) was similarly treated as a co-conspirator.
The Obama administration has the unique distinction of using the Espionage Act more than twice as much as all previous administrations combined. Risen described the Obama administration as “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.”
Under Trump, we haven’t seen attacks on the free press like those which occurred under Obama. Wallace needs to have his memory refreshed.
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis