“Get rid of them”, joked President Trump about the journalists covering his G20 meeting with Vladimir Putin. “Fake news is a great term, isn’t it?” continued Trump, “You don’t have this problem in Russia but we do.”
It’s hard to know where to start with this.
But let’s have a go: the news he’s unhappy with isn’t “fake”, the free press should never be described as a “problem”, and to the extent that Russia doesn’t have it, it’s because lots of their best journalists end up being murdered.
As for getting “rid”, that can be misinterpreted in any number of unfortunate ways – remember Henry II and Becket.
To use loose talk like this in front of Putin and at a conference also attended by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been implicated in the murder of Washington Post journalist Kamal Khashoggi, is to signal that he does not regard the persecution of journalists as a problem.
The US president routinely describes the press as the “enemy of the people”, “dishonest”, purveyors of lies and, more recently, guilty of treason.
Whilst careful to avoid direct incitement, he deliberately sails close to the wind. The effect in the US is a climate of fear and an increased threat of violence against journalists, whilst abroad, despots feel they can act with impunity against the press, safe in the knowledge that, unlike previous US presidents, this one will not condemn them.
The ceaseless repetition of such language by Donald Trump is numbing and there is a danger of us becoming inured to it; that we’ll stop being outraged.
We must guard against this. Once he has gone, history will be scathing about his attitude to the press, but while he is here, we must continue to judge him by the high ideals that were considered normal before he came along.