Mark Pitsch
Your Right to Know

How Trump Threatens The Press

“Alternative facts,” muzzling employees, blocking media access prevents scrutiny.

By - Feb 2nd, 2017 11:37 am
Donald Trump. Photo from

Donald Trump. Photo from

Two days before the new president’s inauguration, the Society of Professional Journalists and dozens of other media and government transparency groups sent a letter asking Donald Trump for a meeting to discuss his administration’s relationship with the press.

Among other things, the groups wanted Trump to affirm his commitment to the First Amendment, assure media access to his presidential activities, and allow expert government employees to talk to the media rather than muzzle them in favor of public relations officials.

Trump has yet to respond.

However, the new administration issued orders to employees of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture not to convey information to the media or public. Officials also imposed a news blackout at the Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, Trump claimed, with no evidence, that up to five million illegal voters participated in the election; his White House spokeswoman used the term “alternative facts” to explain false claims that Trump’s inauguration audience was the largest ever; and chief strategist Steve Bannon called the news media an “opposition party” that should “keep its mouth shut”—views that Trump himself later endorsed.

All this happened within Trump’s first two weeks in office.

Where does that leave us, as members of the press and guardians of your right to know what government is doing?

First, we must report on official efforts to withhold information from the public—which is, after all, footing the bill for government. On day one, the new administration scrubbed references to climate change from the EPA website (echoing similar actions by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources and Public Service Commission). Expect more of the same.

Second, we must continue to be vigilant in the face of Trump’s tendency, first as a candidate and now as president, to engage in bombast and exaggeration. It is our duty to expose unprovable, and outright false, claims.

Third, we must guard against politicians’ unwillingness to subject their actions to media scrutiny. It is our job to disclose what the administration is doing, even in the face of efforts to bypass the traditional White House press corps.

As law professors RonNell Andersen Jones and Sonja R. West recently wrote in The New York Times, while the First Amendment prohibits government censorship and offers protection against lawsuits, journalists have few constitutional rights to government documents and sources, or from being maligned by people in power. Trump, they noted, appears set on blowing up the “mutually dependent” relationships the White House press corps has had with presidential administrations from both parties.

“This is why we should be alarmed when Mr. Trump, defying tradition, vilifies media institutions, attacks reporters by name and refuses to take questions from those whose coverage he dislikes,” they wrote.

It’s not just about the media. It’s about your right to know. To quote Jones and West, “Like so much of our democracy, the freedom of the press is only as strong as we, the public, demand it to be.”

Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (, a group dedicated to open government. Council member Mark Pitsch is an assistant city editor at the Wisconsin State Journal and president of the Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

12 thoughts on “Your Right to Know: How Trump Threatens The Press”

  1. Jason says:

    Small violin perfoms for you.

  2. Joel Nazaretian says:

    “This is why we should be alarmed when Mr. Trump, defying tradition, vilifies media institutions, attacks reporters by name and refuses to take questions from those whose coverage he dislikes,”

    Really? The main stream media vilifies themselves by their blatant, biased inaccurate reporting. Whatever happened to “just the facts”? And those facts are this…we don’t give a flying f–k what you think, what your opinion is on anything, just report the facts in an honest, fair, balanced and un biased manner.

    When we return to this simplistic, honest form of journalism, one of which is, I think, still being taught in journalism school, then, and only then, should we regain our trust in the media. Until then, I hope President Trump continues to defy tradition and attack reporters and news agencies who deserve to be attacked, and ignored!

  3. Jason says:

    Same corporate media that adores Hillary and burries Bernie. Gives Trump the spotlight and gives the other dozen Republican candidates little coverage now wants a do over.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    Who needs truth when you have alternative facts? Conway is right. It’s outrageous that people haven’t been fired for hurting Trump’s feelings by reporting what he actually says and tweets.

  5. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Press has been vilified since John Adams. Fact is tha the Little weenies, and their editors threaten Trump. Failure to publish the truth kills freedoms.Trump is running them in circles with his tweets, they do not know which end is up.

  6. Vincent Hanna says:

    Putting white supremacists in the White House doesn’t help freedom either. They don’t know which end is up because his tweets are insane, like when he suggests refugees and illegal immigrants are exactly the same.

  7. Tom D says:

    Joel (post 2), you wrote “The main stream media vilifies themselves by their blatant, biased inaccurate reporting.”

    This just isn’t true.

    The NY Times, for example, tries VERY hard to be accurate and publishes corrections when it finds even a minor mistake (even something as trivial as a misspelled name). Corrections are distributed 3 ways:
    • appended to the story on the web
    • in a “Corrections” box in the next paper edition (unless the mistake was fixed before it made its way into the print edition)
    • a special “corrections” webpage:

    The NY Times also has a full-time employee (the “reader editor”) whose only job is to deal with allegations of inaccurate or biased reporting.

    Is the NY Times perfect? No, but it’s FAR better than sources like Breitbart, NewsMax, Drudge, or Fox.

  8. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Tom, funny even the NY Times admits it did bad job reporting on Trump, and that it is liberal in ideology.

  9. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Trump can reach 80 million people with his tweets, Facebook, Linked Inn. This drives the dummies in the press and on the Left crazy, talking about “nutting”. It is really funny.
    Ssort of how Norman Lear use to pimp everyone with “All in the family”.

  10. Jason says:

    Hey Vince, it must be nice to put a Russ bumper sticker, a JoAnne Kloppenburg bumpersticker or a ” I’m with Her” Sticker on your vehicle. Knowing that the so called Alt-Right or Nazi’s will respect your property. The truth is the real rage is on the left see Berkley University, the Women’s march or anywhere the Alt-LEFT gathers. I wish I could support my candidate without destruction to my property.

  11. Vincent Hanna says:

    I don’t have any stickers on my car. What about the Milo and Trump fan who shot someone at the protest at the University of Washington? Remind me how that is respectful? Or the kid in Quebec who loves Trump and the alt-right and murdered six people who were worshiping? That’s respectful?

    But hey yeah it’s cool that white supremacists are in the White House and Trump doesn’t know the difference between a refugee and an illegal immigrant. Why would the POTUS need to know that?

  12. Vincent Hanna says:

    Is Linked Inn a motel where Trump has hookers pee on a bed?

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