Four years ago, the president came to praise the media, not bury it

  • Donald Trump speaks at the 12 annual Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications First Amendment award event in Manchester Wednesday, November 12, 2014.Trump

Monitor staff
Published: 11/14/2018 5:52:29 PM

Donald Trump hasn’t always hated the press.

In fact, nearly four years ago to the day, he came to Manchester to praise the Fourth Estate, invited as the guest speaker to the annual Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Awards ceremony.

James Foley of Rochester, the journalist murdered by ISIS while covering the war in Syria, won the award posthumously, and Trump said this:

“I want to thank you James Foley because you are really someone special beyond us all ... far greater than I and far greater than I will ever be.”

Fast forward to Nov. 7, just last week, and we heard this from the president: “When you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people.”

Trump said that to CNN reporter Jim Acosta during a press conference at the White House. The result, in an unprecedented move by a president, was the revocation of Acosta’s press pass, stripping him of access to cover the White House.

“You shouldn’t be working for CNN,” the president told Acosta.

Acosta is no Foley. He did not give his life in the name of his career. He’s been described as overly aggressive and abrasive, a TV personality more concerned with shining a spotlight on himself than exposing a poor choice of words by the president.

In this case, though, Acosta pressed Trump on his use of the word “invasion” to portray a Central American migrant caravan. Trump’s description rankled a lot of people on the left, and his statement was certainly a worthy topic to raise while the issue of immigration is so hot.

Trump wanted none of it, saying Acosta made physical contact with a White House intern when she tried to take the microphone from him, and that’s why his pass was taken away. Trump’s track record, however, suggests something very different.

A report last summer by the Washington Post said Trump had asked his staff to ban reporters from covering official events. He also barred reporters from rallies and other events during his campaign in 2016.

And he banned certain members of the media from the press charter plane, forcing reporters to fly on commercial flights and use general-admission tickets to do their jobs.

Looking back, that’s why choosing Trump four years ago to honor Foley before Foley’s parents spoke seems so strange. That’s why any event connecting First Amendment rights to Donald Trump seems so odd, almost laughable, in today’s climate.

The sparring between the president and the media continued Wednesday afternoon with the first hearing before a judge, after CNN filed a lawsuit in hopes of getting Acosta his pass back.

Trump’s decision, no matter which side of the aisle you sit, looks bad for him and bad for a country which has been shouting the importance of freedom of the press since the stone age.

Even back in 2014, when Trump came to Manchester as a beacon of freedom, he spoke as though he knew the importance of the media’s role, as though he had skin thick enough to handle any and all criticism that might come his way.

“My entire life has been based on freedom of speech,” Trump said. “I say what I want to say. As often as I’ve been praised for speaking my mind, I’m often vilified for the same thing.”

That night, speaking about President Barack Obama, Trump veered into totally irrelevant territory, and no one complained that he didn’t have the right to do it.

“A few months ago, I used the word incompetent to describe the president,” managing editor Jon Van Fleet reported for the Monitor. “It’s a very strong word and I was met with a lot of anger and fury. Now it’s a word that’s commonly used.”

“I have very little respect for him,” Trump added later.

In hindsight, choosing Trump to speak at a celebration of the First Amendment is a head-scratcher, but he wasn’t the president then and had no history of revoking press passes.

Manchester Union Leader publisher Joe McQuaid, the president of the board of trustees for the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications, was out sick Wednesday and unavailable for comment, according to the school’s executive director, David Tirrell-Wysocki, and Union Leader executive director Trent Spiner.

This year’s guest speaker will be Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a probable presidential candidate in 2020 whose appearance Thursday night at the Palace Theater in Manchester will be covered by several media heavyweights: Fox, CBS, C-SPAN and, yes, CNN, according to Tirrell-Wysocki.

And while Kasich is a hot story these days, the guest speaker, Robert Azzi of Exeter, would make a good story as well, especially with Trump in the White House.

The longtime photo journalist and columnist, you see, is a Muslim who’s dedicated lots of his free time toward something called “Ask a Muslim Anything.”

Azzi speaks at libraries, schools and other venues, trying to convince a confused and sometimes skeptical public that Islam and the Quran represent love and tolerance, not hate and violence.

“The First Amendment Award judges said they admired Azzi’s courage and his ‘vocal, forthright and honest’ presentations about what it’s like being Muslim in post-9/11 America.”

That’s what the Nackey School of Communications said in a press release.

Hmm. I wonder what the president would have done with his pass.

He never lost his right to ask questions, though.

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