That Donald Trump favours a broadside as the best response to criticism is not a secret. The critical US media is a favourite target, with Trump summarily dismissing any critical reports as “fake news” and the contributing news organisation as “fake media”, “unpatriotic”, “truly dishonest people” and, more ominously, as “enemies of the American people”. Such wholesale mudslinging may be fair game in politics, but the American president unceasing, mostly ad hominem, attacks on individual reporters has imperilled them—or so the UN’s top human rights official believes.The UNHRC’s high commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said that freedom of press being under attack from the US president, when it is “very much something that the US has defended over the years”, will have a dangerous consequence.
He also added, mentioning CNN, New York Times and Washington Post specifically, that the president attacking media organisations and referring to their individual journalists, was an “incitement to violence” against the latter. Al Hussein’s take down of Trump may seem like hyperbole—especially in the backdrop of the UN electing Saudi Arabia, a country that conspicuously violates human rights, to the HRC and the women’s rights commission—but there is no denying that Trump’s attacks will likely undermine trust in the media, especially amongst his constituency. That may not endanger individual journalists, but it will certainly be corrosive for their functioning as professionals. And yet, many have argued that the president, with an illustrious stint in reality TV as part of his résumé, may have benefited the media, especially TV.
A Rolling Stone report quotes Tony Maddox, head of CNN International, to say Trump has been “good for business”. Maddox says that the groups that Trump has primarily targeted are seeing “remarkable growth in their viewing figures, in their sales figures.” CBS chief Les Moonves had said last year that Trump “may not be good for America, but is damn good for CBS”. There have been some instances of attacks on journalists at pro-Trump rallies, and online abuse, too, but the reality of the Trump effect on US media maybe more complex than the UNHRC chief thinks.