aNewDomain — I’ve been an Enemy of the American People for five months now.
I never had such big ambitions for myself, but Pres. Donald Trump made my status official as an American enemy back on February 18.
I’ve been eying this situation warily ever since. No American president since Richard M. Nixon has so demonized and denigrated the free press.
But now, what with Trump using the official presidential Twitter account to share a video showing him body slamming a suited guy with a CNN logo superimposed on his head, I’ve got a couple of questions.
Are American journalists now eligible to get political asylum in some other country?
And if not, why not? I mean, seriously.
What exactly does it take for Canada or another first world country with real press freedoms to take me in?
As enemies of the American people like me are wont to do, I dove in for a closer look.
A president’s threat
Of course, journalists and first amendment watchdogs were all over Trump’s GIF today. It was a whole new level of media bashing.
Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, immediately dashed off a statement.
“No one should be threatened with physical harm for doing their jobs,” Brown said.”We condemn the president’s threat of physical violence against journalists.”
He wasn’t alone. In an interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter, famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein called Trump’s tweet “very disturbing.”
“It’s not just anti-CNN, it’s anti-freedom of the press, it’s anti-freedom of speech. It is a definitive statement by the president of the United States,” he said.
Moreover, he added, “there is nothing lighthearted about it whatsoever … It is an incitement, it is definitive, as I say, of the way this president views a free press and its exercise under the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
Then came the zinger. “The nexus of fake news in America is the Trump White House,” Bernstein said.
An incitement to violence?
Trump’s tweet “is an incitement to violence. He is going to get somebody killed in the media,” said GOP strategist and CNN commentator Ana Navarro.
For its part, CNN responded to Trump’s tweet (above left) by criticizing Trump’s “juvenile behavior” in a statement and exhorting him to “start doing his” job.
Trump’s tweet came just two days after his July 4 speech to veterans, which was full of media attacks. And it came three days after his personal (and false, as it turned out ) attack on MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski.
The latter drew widespread, bipartisan condemnation from GOP and Democrat lawmakers.
There are media attacks, too, that aren’t as well covered.
Take what happened to Kurt Eichenwald. A month after Trump made us enemies of the state, the epileptic Newsweek reporter received a strobe message apparently designed to give him a seizure, which it did.
According to the FBI, John Rayne Rivello, 29, of Salisbury, MD, allegedly sent that message, saying, “You deserve a seizure for your post.”
Rivello now faces charges, but he is allegedly just one of more than 40 people who’ve sent Eichenwald strobe messages in the last half year.
Also in March, three Los Angeles journalists, OC Weekly’s Frank Tristan, Julie Leopo and Brian Feinzimer, were physically attacked and pepper sprayed by Trump supporters at a Huntington Beach Trump rally.
As yet, no one has been arrested or charged.
Sure, you could write those attacks off as lunatic fringe incidents. They don’t seem to be all that much different from, say, the Trump supporter who, believing the silly Alt Right #PizzaGate meme, showed up and started firing assault rifles at a Washington D.C. pizza shop.
But then Greg Gianforte happened.
At a May 23 press conference, the GOP congressional candidate (now Montana state representative) wrestled Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs to the ground after he (politely!) asked two questions at a press conference.
Charged with assault, Gianforte was forced to apologize to Jacobs in writing, admitting that the reporter hadn’t provoked him (as he’d previously claimed).
He pled guilty. And he barely got even a slap on the wrist.
The billionaire’s sentence was deferred (meaning no jail time and, in six months, no record) and he was forced to pay $50K to a press freedom group.
Which brings me back to my original question. Does any of this make American journalists like me eligible for political asylum somewhere — anywhere?
Canada seems like a friendly enough place, doesn’t it? But how it in the asylum departnent?
Back in December, Canadian immigration officials said they were experiencing a real bump in the number of Americans seeking asylum on humanitarian grounds. They reported 170 in the year 2016, twice the total from the year before. And in November, when they released the report, 28 Americans had claimed refugee status, compared to only five in the same month the year before.
But there’s a difference in asking for asylum or refugee status and getting it, said University of Ottawa professor and lawyer Jamie Liew.
It’s not that being from the United States hurts your chances per se, she said. It’s true that most of the refugees Canada admitted last year were from war-torn areas, like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. “But that’s not what matters,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from a country that’s democratic and is generally in support of human rights.”
What matters is that you can show you qualify as a refugee — subjectively and objectively.
Subjective and objective fears
Most countries, Canada included, require that asylum seekers meet criteria set out by the 1951 Refugee Convention and its amended 1967 Refugee Protocol.
That means you have to be able to prove not just that you have a fear persecution — because of race, religion, nationality, politics or, yes, membership in a group such as the media — but also that the government cannot or will not protect you.
“It’s a high bar,” she said. Until journalists really are attacked and no one does anything, well, it’s going to be an awfully hard argument to make.
‘But I feel so persecuted,” I protested.
“That’s not enough, though,” she told me. “You have to be able to prove it.”
I made similar calls to immigration lawyers and experts in Australia, Norway, Iceland, Germany and the Netherlands.
Each time, I got the same response.
One employee of the German government, speaking anonymously because she worried she did not have the status to speak publicly on the matter, told me one of the problems an asylum seeker like me might face is a belief that the United States Bill of Rights protects those who are persecuted — and also, that persecuted Americans could always “just move to another state.”
Are we there yet?
And so I called Ken Roth.
Roth, who is executive director of Human Rights Watch, has been sharply critical of Trump and his colleague’s words since the election.
Trump’s “successful campaign for the U.S. presidency was a vivid illustration of (the emerging) politics of intolerance,” Roth wrote in a commentary about the dangers of populism a few months ago.
I’ve been emailing him now and again for awhile now about Trump and his media-bashing.
After the Gianforte body slamming incident, in which Gianforte was charged with only misdemeanor assault, I asked Ken whether this was a sign — a sign that the media was being persecuted for real.
“Gianforte’s attack on Ben Jacobs was clearly a crime that should be taken more seriously than local authorities seem to be (taking it),” he told me.
“Trump’s verbal denunciation of critical journalists as ‘enemies of the people’ shows a disturbing lack of appreciation for the essential role the media plays in democracy as a check on executive power.”
However, said Roth, “we fortunately are not yet at a place where journalists cannot live safely in the United States. A single crime like Gianforte’s, and a handful of troublesome incidents elsewhere, do not mean journalists throughout the United States are unable to do their jobs for risk of persecution.”
But what now?
Does the president’s tweeting — and retweeting, from the official @Potus account — this wrestling body slam video change anything in his eyes?
Yes, the tweet appears to promote a violent attitude toward me and my fellow Fourth Estate-ers.
“Trump’s homeland security advisor tried to justify the video by saying he didn’t think people would see it as a threat, but that’s not the point; it’s whether people see it as approval of attacks on journalists,” he told me today.
Now, this “could be problem in the United States,” he continued, “but it’s a particularly acute problem around the world where various autocrats are anxiously awaiting a green light to shut down their own independent press.”
So do we journalists classify as persecuted yet?
Has he changed his mind about what he wrote me, a month ago, about our being “not yet at a place where journalists cannot live safely in the United States?”
No, he said. It “doesn’t change that.”
Maybe it’s a matter of perspective. It does have the smell of persecution about it, am I wrong?
Could I be overreacting?
Enemy of the American People? Take a number …
“This is not Turkey, I get that; this is not North Korea, I get that, too. But the steady deterioration of atmosphere, of civility and common decency, of outright unconstitutional behavior towards journalists, is deeply worrying,” said National Press Club president Jeff Ballou to The Guardian after the Giancorte incident in May.
John Donnelly, who chairs the group’s press freedom team, in May was pinned against the wall by security guards and forced out of the building, he’s said.
His offense: asking a question of FCC commissioner Michael O’Reilly.
A week earlier, reporter Dan Heyman repeatedly asked US health secretary, Tom Price, whether domestic abuse would be considered a preexisting condition in the TrumpCare plan. He was handcuffed, arrested and charged with “willful disruption of governmental processes.” He spent eight hours in jail.
Bear in mind: He asked a question.
And this happened in a public hallway of the state capitol in Charleston, West Virginia.
The arrest was “a blatant attempt to chill an independent, free press,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The charges against him are outrageous,” said the statement.
I’m grateful for the ACLU for backing first amendment issues, of course, but words don’t really seem to be helping here..
“People feel that if the leader of the free world can be offensive and aggressive towards journalists, why can’t they do the same?” points out Ballou.
Trump does seem to be giving overt and tacit permission to attack the media, which is worrisome. And what’s scarier is, his hard core base of supporters believe anything he says. After he was caught dummying up fake Time Magazine covers and hanging them at his various golf clubs recently, the chorus of Trump supporting comments on Twitter accused media photographers of just doctoring the photos to make them look fake.
The anger against journalists is palpable on the social nets. Will it get worse in the real world?
I fear the answer.
Stay tuned, would you?
For aNewDomain, I’m Gina Smith.
I am not the only one feeling persecuted these days: Here’s The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief on some of his fears:
Here is the full text of the statement made by Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, on Trump’s wresting video:
“We condemn the president’s threat of physical violence against journalists. This tweet is beneath the office of the presidency. Sadly, it is not beneath this president.
“No one should be threatened with physical harm for doing their jobs. Journalists are your neighbors, they’re your friends. Journalists perform a critical function in our society, one the Founding Fathers felt was so necessary that they enshrined it first in the Bill of Rights.
“They wrote that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.’
“Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy. The press are the people’s window into the halls of power, and most importantly, they are the people’s check on that power. When the president attacks the press, he attacks the people.”
Here is the full text of a joint letter sent to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, requesting canada’s support for a campaign to protect journalists, led by Reporters without Borders.
We, the undersigned organizations and supporters, urge the Canadian government to lend its support to and publicly endorse the campaign, led by Reporters Without Borders, to appoint a Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for the safety of journalists. Around the world, journalists are being targeted in unprecedented ways, from kidnappings to cyber-attacks and even public killings, and these crimes too often go unpunished.
Today is United Nations International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, created in 2013 as part of UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/163. The Resolution urged Member States to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability for perpetrators of crimes against journalists and media workers. By endorsing the creation a concrete mechanism to coordinate and give real political weight to UN efforts on the safety of journalists, Canada can help fulfill this commitment, and become a global leader in the fight to end impunity.
There has never been a more dangerous time for journalists. They are being killed and imprisoned worldwide in record numbers. Whether covering conflict, crime or corruption, journalists often have to put themselves at great risk in order to do their job effectively; and when they are threatened, attacked or killed, the crimes against them too often are committed with impunity. According to CJFE’s research, 787 journalists and media personnel were killed while exercising their profession over the last 10 years, including 77 in 2015 alone. In 9 out of 10 cases these crimes remain uninvestigated and unpunished. With their loss, the right to information for hundreds of millions of citizens is shattered.
There have been various resolutions adopted in the past decade, including by the Security Council and the General Assembly, dedicated to this issue. Despite this, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in his August 2015 report on the safety of journalists, acknowledges the world’s “failure to reduce the frequency and scale of targeted violence that journalists face and the near absolute impunity for such crimes.” These strong resolutions will continue to be little more than empty words without a concrete mechanism to assure the compliance of member states with their obligations. Only a Special Representative, working closely with the UN Secretary General, will have the political weight, the capacity to act quickly, and the legitimacy to coordinate with all UN bodies to implement change.
Giving the Special Representative a central and permanent position under the UN Secretary General aegis would significantly empower the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity and all UN efforts lead by UNESCO, the Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, as well as reinforce the regional actions of the Council of Europe or the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Organization of American States).
Progress has been made, but more needs to be done. Canada is a global haven for persecuted journalists; it can be a world leader in helping to end impunity. We call on you to endorse the appointment of a Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for the safety of journalists as soon as possible. It is time for concrete action.
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada
Canadian Association of Journalists
Canadian Freelance Union
Centre for Free Expression
National Newsmedia Council
Journalists for Human Rights