The executive director of the WGA East has called President Donald Trump’s “vicious attacks” on the media an “existential threat” to independent journalism – a greater threat than even plummeting ad dollars and readership.
“Until recently, the biggest threats to independent journalism seemed to be economic,” wrote Lowell Peterson in his latest report to the guild’s members. “Print publications suffered from profound decreases in advertising. Broadcasters found it increasingly difficult to hold onto audience share and advertiser dollars. Digital media transformed the landscape with a delivery system that made it possible to write stories and create videos at nearly real-time speeds, but with substantially less revenue to fund the hard work of investigating and analyzing complex developments.”
Those dire economic trends are still real, he noted, “but they seem to pale before the existential threat encapsulated by the curt condemnation by the Tweeter in Chief: ‘Fake news! The media are the enemy of the people!’ ”
Lambasting the media is “kind of old hat in American politics,” Peterson wrote, “but until recently it has been mostly blather. And maybe the vicious attacks coming from the White House and its pals are just a cynical attempt at distraction rather than a declaration of actual policy. It seems clear that the ability to use digital media, including online news sites and social media, is not a Left/Right issue. For every Brietbart there is a HuffPost, Gizmodo Media Group, Vice, etc.”
“Vigilance is the price of liberty,” he wrote, “and WGAE members working in broadcast news, in digital news, in public affairs and documentary programs find themselves on the front lines in the battle to preserve robust, fearless exploration of real, as opposed to ‘alternative,’ facts.”
Late-night comedy writers are also playing a key role in speaking truth to power, he wrote. “Our members crafting comedy/variety shows prove every night that satire speaks truth.”
More worrisome, he said, is the role that writers of scripted dramas can play in getting to the truth of the current American scene. “Our members in scripted drama find themselves worrying about whether they will be able to craft compelling characters and narratives that challenge the powerful and the insecure.”
Even so, Peterson noted that he is “confident this union and its members are up to the challenge. We will continue to build power in the workplace and to speak our minds to the public and to the politicos.”
The letter comes as Trump continued his criticism of the press todaywhile overseas ahead of the G20 summit in Germany.
Meanwhile, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) suggested today in an interview that Trump wants to be a Vladimir Putin-like dictator and “shut down the press.”
“I think he wants to be like Mr. Putin,” Meeks said on CNN. “He would like to shut down the press, or have the state just run the press. You know, he would like to be more of an authoritarian-type president.”
Trump has called the “fake news media” the “enemy of the American people,” but to date he’s not suggested that he wants to shut down the press or have the press run by the state.
Calls to Meeks’ office were not returned.