Almost a year into the Trump presidency and the threats to the free press are rising on all fronts—physical, financial, legal, technological, and, not least of all, political. Their convergence may not form a perfect storm, but it’s laying waste to much of journalism as we’ve known it.
Killing net neutrality, which the Republican-controlled FCC voted to do yesterday, is only the most recent gut punch to a free press. The commission also moved closer yesterday to repealing a TV-ownership rule, in order to allow Sinclair Broadcast Group, a Trumpist mouthpiece and already the nation’s largest network of local TV stations, to nearly double its reach, to 72 percent of American households. Straight out of Bizarro World: The Koch brothers will soon own a big piece of Time Inc., and the publisher of the National Enquirer could take over Time magazine itself. The future of CNN is up for grabs. Journalists are getting locked up and body-slammed for doing their jobs. Armed with secret algorithms and the overwhelming bulk of US digital-ad revenue, Google and Facebook can determine what news is amplified or sidelined. And, whoa, hold on for the coming “digital-news media crash.”
These aren’t just the fears of lefty journalists. President Trump has “engaged in the most direct, sustained assault on a free press in our history,” Fox News’s Chris Wallace said as he accepted an award from the International Center for Journalists last month. Trump is “attacking us institutionally and individually,” and this “concerted campaign” is succeeding, Wallace lamented, citing a poll that found 46 percent of voters believe that news organizations make up stories about President Trump. (Wallace didn’t mention his employer’s leading role in that campaign.)