RTDNA asks 2018 candidates not to inflame anti-news media passions

March 19, 2018 11:00

RTDNA and its Voice of the First Amendment Task Force have sent letters to the chairwomen and chairmen of the nation’s largest political campaign committees, Democrat and Republican, requesting that they urge 2018 congressional and state legislative candidates not to inflame the passions of those who may be predisposed to lash out at members of the news media.
On March 19, RTDNA Executive Director Dan Shelley wrote to the campaign committee leaders:
Just a few years ago I would have considered the necessity for a request such as this unimaginable. But as you know, we presently live in a divisive political and ideological environment in which cries of “fake news” and the label of journalists as “the enemy of the American people” have emboldened those who either don’t like, or don’t understand the role of, journalism to act out, too often in harsh ways.
A March 11 Associated Press story reported that, “President Donald Trump’s campaign to discredit the news media has spread to officials at all levels of government, who are echoing his use of the term “fake news” as a weapon against unflattering stories.”
The AP story cites the use of the term “fake news” by the governor of Kentucky to attempt to discredit responsible journalists’ reports about “his purchase of a home from a supporter.” It also notes that Idaho State Rep. Priscilla Giddings launched her own, local, “Fake News Awards” initiative shortly after President Trump did so at the national level several weeks ago.
Also, as Shelley wrote as part of a New Year’s Day message to America’s broadcast and digital journalists, “campaign consultants have already advised some midterm congressional and local candidates to attack the media at every turn because it worked so well for candidate Trump in 2016.”
In 2017, there were 44 physical attacks on journalists across the country, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, of which RTDNA is a founding partner. So far in 2018, there have been three documented by the Tracker plus an additional physical attack on a San Diego news crew during a live shot March 12.
In his March 19 correspondence, Shelley told the campaign committee chairwomen and chairmen:
I am certainly not implying that candidates in this year’s election cycle are, or have been, responsible for those assaults; rather, I am suggesting that words matter – especially words from our nation’s political leaders.
Whenever journalists are harassed, threatened, obstructed, or assaulted, those journalists are not the victims. The real victims are the people of the United States whom those journalists have a constitutionally-guaranteed duty to serve by, among other things, reporting on … campaigns.
The letters were sent to the following: RTDNA formed the nonpartisan Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. Reach out to RTDNA by emailing pressfreedom@rtdna.org.


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