Email #82, Subject: “enemy of the American people”?

The President tweeted last week:

“The FAKE NEWS media failing  @nytimes@NBCNews@ABC@CBS@CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

He repeated the accusation on Friday, and Press Secretary Spicer held an invitation-only press conference that barred these major news organizations while giving access to less reputable ones. The Wall Street Journal, an extremely reputable organization with a slight right-leaning bias, stated afterwards:

“The Wall Street Journal strongly objects to the White House’s decision to bar certain media outlets from today’s gaggle. Had we known at the time, we would not have participated and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future.”

I have considered descriptions of the Trump administration as “fascist” to be hyperboles. But this escalating attitude toward the media is alarming. Dr. Lawrence Britt writes in Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism:

“Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives.”

David S. D’Amato writes in Mussolini and the Press:

“Mussolini saw himself as a revolutionary and his government as a living embodiment of transformative new ideas. The transmittal of these ideas … was, to Mussolini’s mind, a primary responsibility of the Italian press. No such idea of adversarial journalism, of subjecting the actions of state to investigation and scrutiny, was to infect the minds of the nation’s newspaper writers and editors. Rather Mussolini contended that “Fascism requires militant journalism,” the country’s newspapers presenting themselves “as a solid bloc,” committed to “the Cause” and obscuring or outrightly burying any fact or story antithetical to it. Even more than post-factum censorship, Mussolini favored this kind of proactive steering of the press, hardly subtle and clearly defining his expectations as both military and civilian leader of the people. In Fascist Italy, social and political pressures—and the resultant self-policing by the media—were at least as important as actual legal proscriptions, probably much more important.”

While Donald Trump is no Benito Mussolini, his attitude toward the press is disturbingly similar. The morning after the election, you listed protecting “our constitutional freedoms” and “checking executive overreach” as two of your top six priorities. How then are you responding to the President’s increasing disregard for the First Amendment?

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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