By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 8, 2018 ~
A long-tenured cartoonist at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has recently had his anti-Trump cartoons censored by the editorial director at the newspaper. Yesterday the New York Times reported that the Justice Department has seized years of one of its reporters’ email and phone records. Before we get to those details, it’s important to look at the backdrop around these actions.
Four days after Donald Trump’s inauguration as President on January 20, 2017 he began a propaganda campaign against a free press in the United States on his Twitter page, labeling major media outlets as “Fake News.” According to the searchable database of Trump Tweets, he has since that time posted a total of 230 Tweets calling out major media as “Fake News.”
Former FBI Director James Comey wrote in a memo regarding a February 2017 meeting he had with the President that Trump had urged him to jail reporters who leaked classified information, according to New York Times reporting.
Simultaneously with Trump’s assault on cable news programs and major U.S. newspapers, he has engaged in a serious pattern of lies to the American people. The Washington Post reported on June 1 that the President “has made 3,251 false or misleading claims in 497 days.” The Post provides an ongoing database of Trump’s deceptions.
Major among Trump’s lies have been his alternative facts regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the involvement of members of his campaign with Russia – a serious national security issue. Trump has sought to deflect public attention and negative public opinion on this issue by assigning it all simply to a media that’s out to get him.
Now Trump’s assault on an American free press has taken another dangerous turn. The New York Times is reporting today that one of its reporters, Ali Watkins, was notified by the Justice Department that it had obtained years of her “customer records and subscriber information from telecommunications companies, including Google and Verizon, for two email accounts and a phone number of hers.” The Times’ report notes that “investigators did not obtain the content of the messages themselves.”
According to the Times report, the seizure of documents from its reporter was in connection with the investigation of James Wolfe, a former aide to the Senate Intelligence Committee who had worked there for almost three decades. He and Watkins had been in a personal relationship. Wolfe has been arrested and is expected to make his first court appearance today.
The Times quotes Ben Smith, the Editor in Chief of BuzzFeed News, where Watkins previously worked, as follows: “We’re deeply troubled by what looks like a case of law enforcement interfering with a reporter’s constitutional right to gather information about her own government.”
It should be stressed that this is a government being run by a President who believes he is above the law, can “demand” whom the Justice Department investigates, feels that he has the right to silence members of the press through intimidation, and has turned lying to the American people into an art form.
On Wednesday evening Rob Rogers, a veteran cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, went on CNN’s Jake Tapper program to reveal that his newspaper was censoring his cartoons that were boldly critical of Trump. The censorship apparently came from Keith Burris, the newspaper’s editorial director, who refused to publish six of Rogers’ latest cartoons.
The newspaper’s ugly turn toward Trumpism produced an editorial titled “Reason as Racism” in January, following the President’s use of the term “shithole” to describe some African nations. The editorial said “Calling the president a racist helps no one — it is simply another way (the Russia and instability cards having been played unsuccessfully) to attempt to delegitimize a legitimately elected president.”
The editorial outraged the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh which issued a January 16 letter to the paper, writing that the Guild “is collectively appalled and crestfallen by the repugnant editorial ‘Reason as Racism.’ As a matter of course, the Guild does not weigh in on editorial positions, but this piece is so extraordinary in its mindless, sycophantic embrace of racist values and outright bigotry espoused by this country’s President that we would be morally, journalistically, and humanly remiss not to speak out against it.”
Burris’s censorship of Rogers is likely being buttressed by John Robinson Block, the newspaper’s publisher and owner, according to the media monitoring organization, FAIR, which reports that Block is “an open Trump supporter.”
The new assaults on the media come as Time Magazine’s June 18 cover features Trump in a business suit looking into a mirror where he sees his image as that of a king. The cover includes the titles of feature stories inside, one on “Visions of Absolute Power,” another titled “Trump vs the Constitution,” and a third suggesting “Why Mueller Won’t Indict.”
What is happening in America is not normal – as so many continue to stress. The danger is that as Trump continues to define deviancy down and as he makes so many power grabs simultaneously in so many directions, Americans may become desensitized simply because it will be impossible to keep up. To counter that dangerous trend will require removing his sycophants in Congress on November 6 and replacing them with members who will hold the President accountable through legislation, lawsuits, meaningful investigations and, yes, impeachment, if the facts warrant.