Donald Trump recently told reporters, “I don’t get to watch much television, primarily because of documents. I’m reading documents a lot, and different things.”
Whether or not one is inclined to believe that the president has become a voracious reader, Trump seems to whine quite a bit about the medium for which he has so little time. Over the weekend, for example, the president turned to Twitter to declare, “Fox News is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!”
I’m happy to let CNN defend itself, but a few obvious problems stood out with this. For example, if Trump is concerned about how the United States is presented to the world, he should probably focus less on news outlets he disapproves of and more on getting his presidency under control.
For that matter, as The Atlantic’s David Frum noted, CNN and other news organizations are protected by the First Amendment here, but internationally, journalists depend on official support from U.S. officials, making Trump’s words “a direct attack on those international journalists’ freedom and even safety.”
But it was the timing of the president’s offensive that seemed especially problematic. Trump targeted CNN International on Saturday, against the backdrop of his Russian benefactor taking some related actions of his own.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill allowing Russia to register international media outlets as foreign agents – a move largely seen as retaliation against the U.S. for similar crackdowns on Kremlin-funded media outlets.
Putin signed the bill into law Saturday after the upper chamber of the Russian parliament adopted it Wednesday. The move is seen as a quid pro quo after U.S. officials demanded that state-media outlet Russia Today, or RT, register as a foreign agent with the U.S. Justice Department.
One might expect, under these circumstances, to see an American president respond to Russia’s move by expressing an unyielding commitment to the freedom of the press and the constitutional principles that empower journalists to serve the public’s interests.
And while most American presidents would do exactly that, on the same day Putin targeted international media outlets, Trump thought it’d be a good idea to lash out at CNN International.
I suspect Moscow was impressed.