On Saturday, Donald Trump ally and confidante Roger Stone declared that CNN “is not a news organization but an advocacy group” and that “when Donald Trump is president, he should turn off their FCC license.” (Disclosure: I’m a CNN contributor.)
In any other election year, that would be news. But this cycle, Trump and his campaign have threatened the press in so many unprecedented ways that they’ve overloaded the system. The press itself can’t keep up. The day before Stone’s comments, Trump implied that he’d retaliate against The Washington Post’s critical coverage of him by going after its owner, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who has been “getting away with murder, tax-wise” and has a “huge antitrust problem.” In March, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was arrested on misdemeanor battery charges for grabbing Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields at a campaign rally. (The charges were later dropped.) In February, Trump declared, “If I win … I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they [journalists] write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” In January, the Trump campaign barred New York Times reporters from covering campaign events after the Times published an unflattering story about his ground operation. (At various times, Team Trump has also barred reporters from National Review, The Des Moines Register, Univision, BuzzFeed, The Daily Beast, Fusion, The Huffington Post, Mother Jones, and Politico, sometimes in explicit retaliation for negative coverage.)
There’s more. Trump has publicly called the journalists who cover him “scum” on at least two occasions. Last July, when The Daily Beast ran a piece about sexual-assault accusations by Trump’s ex-wife, Michael Cohen—executive vice-president at the Trump Organization—told the reporters who wrote it that “what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting … I’m going to mess your life up.” As Vice’s Olivia Becker has noted, “Trump is the only presidential candidate whose rallies feature a specific area in the back where journalists are corralled and not permitted to leave. Other candidates have areas designated for the media, but reporters are free to mingle in the crowd to interview people. Leaving the press pen at a Trump rally [by contrast] comes with its own risk.” In February, when a Time magazine journalist tried to leave the pen to photograph protesters being ejected, a secret-service agent grabbed him by the neck and slammed him to the ground.