On Tuesday, TIME magazine chose a “Person of the Year”: persecuted journalists they called “The Guardians.” This decision makes good sense — journalists are indeed persecuted by governments across the world. However, the feature about “The Guardians” clearly linked President Donald Trump to this horrific global trend.
“For a certain kind of politician, there is an almost liberating genius to framing independent journalists as the enemy,” TIME‘s Karl Vick argued. “Stray from the truth, and whoever corrects you can be dismissed as ‘the other side.’ The strategy runs on a dangerous assumption—that we’re not all in this together.”
Naturally, Vick slammed Trump, quoting his Breitbart interview calling “the fake media” “the opposition party” and “the enemy of the American people.” Then Vick repeated Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)’s ridiculous claim that Trump was echoing Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin with the phrase.
“The President may not have known the history of the phrase. It was used in the Soviet Union, to condemn subordinates at the 1930s show trials Joseph Stalin ordered before executing those who had fallen out of favor,” the TIME author wrote.
While Stalin did condemn people by calling them “the enemy of the people,” Trump clearly does not use the phrase in the same way Stalin did.
The American president’s governing style could not be more different from the Soviet dictator’s horrific tactics. Stalin actively censored newspapers, literature, pictures, and film. Stalin’s “purges” directly caused the deaths of an estimated three million people. His policies also sparked a famine, killing 18-45 million.
Meanwhile, Trump has failed to shut down a single news outlet. Indeed, he has helped news outlets stay in business, providing bigger ratings. Trump has not carried out any “purges,” and he has not censored a single book, video, or television show.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump did promise to “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” As of yet, this threat has yielded barely any action, however.
So why did TIME attack Trump? Journalists across the world do indeed face persecution from governments. The apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Istanbul was horrific. In Myanmar, Reuters reporters Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone are serving seven years in prison after reporting the deaths of Rohingya Muslims.
— TIME (@TIME) December 11, 2018
Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam was jailed for more than 100 days after criticizing the prime minister. In Sudan, Amal Habani was arrested, detained for 34 days, and beaten with electric rods.
The state of press freedom in Turkey, Venezuela, Russia, and Mexico is truly horrific, and governments really do demonize, penalize, and even imprison and torture journalists.
The United States does not do these things, however. TIME magazine got to attacking Trump by referencing the tragic attack on the Capital Gazette, a newspaper in Annapolis, Md.
In a video summary of the “Person of the Year” report, TIME showed footage of Trump demonizing negative media and immediately switched to coverage of the shooting from this past June.
So did Trump’s attacks on the “fake news media” inspire the shooting? Apparently not. The gunman killed five employees and wounded two others — and he had a personal history with the paper. That gunman brought a defamation suit against the paper which a judge later dismissed.
The Capital Gazette worked around the clock to get a paper out the next day, showing the tenacity of American journalists. They were the heroes of the story, but Trump was not the villain.
The persecution of journalists across the world is indeed a serious matter, and TIME was right to choose them as a “Person of the Year.” However, the true threats to press freedom come from outside the United States. Listing the tragic Capital Gazette shooting as an example of governmental persecution of journalism is disgusting.
Trump’s attacks on “fake news” arguably go too far, but they do not make him similar to Stalin, they do not make him responsible for this horrific shooting, and they do not justify in any sense TIME magazine’s decision to list the United States along with governments that really do imprison and torture journalists.
A retraction and an apology are certainly in order.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.