Trump and the Press and Other Letters to the Editor

Bird’s Eye

To the Editor:

In Sophie Lucido Johnson’s back-page Sketchbook, “Flights of Fancy” (Sept. 20), she quotes from introductions to bird-watching books to see if they capture the pastime’s magic. “The Verb ‘To Bird’: Sightings of an Avid Birder,” by Peter Cashwell, has everything that is missing from the examples cited. It depicts all the delights and challenges in winsome prose.

Stephen P. Schaefer
Chapel Hill, N.C.


To the Editor:

Contending, as Jack Shafer’s review of Harold Holzer’s “The Presidents vs. the Press” (Sept. 20) does, that President Barack Obama treated the press “as poorly” as President Trump does, “only differently,” made my false-equivalency alarm go off at full clangorous volume.

Obama took perhaps-excessive measures to control the flow of information out of the White House, and to prevent press leaks. Trump publicly called the shooting of an MSNBC reporter in the leg with a rubber bullet by a police officer, during a peaceful protest, “a beautiful thing.”

This was only the most recent example of the president’s inability to suppress his giddy glee at the thought of reporters being physically assaulted for no offense other than attempting to do their jobs. Maybe I’m partisan, but I detect a slight difference here.

David English
Acton, Mass.

To the Editor:

Shafer’s review of Harold Holzer’s “The Presidents vs. the Press” notes that Holzer offers evidence that Trump is not “the greatest enemy of the First Amendment to have occupied the White House,” and “might not even rank in the top five.” But what criteria is Holzer using? And is Holzer right?

During the 18th century, presidents restrained the press in ways that current courts would no longer countenance. The only reason Trump has not acted on more of his threats against the media (e.g., to shut down social media platforms, review the licenses of critical broadcasters and jail reporters) is that the law would not permit it.

But Trump has done great harm. Trump’s repeated attacks on individual reporters and “fake news” have had profound negative effects on the public’s trust in the Fourth Estate. According to a recent Gallup poll, 71 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable opinion of the news media.

It is true, as Holzer notes, that other presidents also threatened press freedoms. But those effects were relatively short-lived. Trump has caused pervasive and likely long-lasting damage. If Trump does not make the top five “greatest enemies” list, it is not for want of trying.

Leslie C. Levin
Westport, Conn.

The writer is associate dean for research and faculty development at the University of Connecticut School of Law.

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