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Opinion

Opinion: Trump declares war on the critical press

Donald Trump's press conference was a clear declaration of war against the critical media, says DW's Ines Pohl. The president-elect dodged and ignored many key questions about his upcoming administration.

The more muddled the situation, the more important it is to take a step back and not lose sight of what's important. On Wednesday, the President-elect of the United States, Donald Trump, gave his first press conference in his capacity as leader. In a democracy, freedom of the press is something sacrosanct, and it is the journalist's role, as a representative of the people, to hold the people in power to account.

This is accomplished on the one hand through careful and thoughtful research, and on the other through dogged questioning, for example at a press conference.

This long-awaited press conference had already been delayed several times. In essence, it should have been about how the millionaire Trump will ensure that he will not use his presidential power to influence his business interests. This question is anything but trivial in the case of Trump, as it benefits him directly when, for example, politicians and lobbyists stay in hotels he owns.

Ines Pohl, Korrespondentin Washington, ab März 2017 Chefredakteurin der Deutschen Welle im Newsroom der DW in Berlin (DW/R. Oberhammer)

DW's Ines Pohl

Even in his international business dealings, many are worried that the future president will mix political and private goals; even if not directly, then perhaps inadvertently, since he will have information on things that may impact the future of the markets, giving him a clear advantage over competitors.

Intense accusations

A metaphorical bomb was dropped on the eve of the press conference in the form of media reports, including one from CNN, claiming that Russian intelligence had information that could compromise the soon-to-be most powerful man in the world, both privately and financially. The information had already been reported to US security agencies, and now, just days before the inauguration, found its way to the public. Trump responded quickly, on Twitter as usual, calling the journalists liars and comparing the behavior of the spy agencies to the leaders of Nazi Germany.

That is quite a statement. And it reflects the strangeness American society now finds itself in.

Cooperation between top politicians and the press is inherently complicated. Their interests are often at odds. This was no different with Barack Obama. In recent history, no president has engaged with the press less than he. But in this recent election campaign, the relationship has been poisoned in a way that is now gnawing at the foundations of the country. This has a lot to do with Trump's aggressive style. And the fact that he has used new forms of media to spread unverified claims, for example, about his own taxes or the state of the US economy.

Yet even more dangerous is the mistrust in the work of journalists that Trump has sown. No matter how well-researched critical reports are, he dismisses it as falsehood. In that way, it is impossible to critically monitor the government. What does not fit into his worldview is rejected as a lie.

USA Donald Trump Pressekonferenz in New York City (Reuters/S. Stapleton)

Trump refused to answer a question from CNN reporter Jim Acosta

This is not only true for the Trump camp, however. Opposition voices are often too ready to believe and spread every story critical of the president-elect. The accusations about the distorted reporting of the liberal media are not always wrong!

Critical questions left unanswered

On Wednesday, Donald Trump clearly showed the world how he plans to deal with critical journalists in the future. He refused to answer the question of a CNN reporter, because his organization had published the unverified reports of Russian agents having compromising information about the president-elect. Hard questions from reporters working for other organizations were also met with rancor, and no answers were offered for some of the most pressing questions - about unfulfilled promises, for example the vow to create a completely new form of health insurance to replace Obamacare, and to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

Reading a pre-written statement from one of his lawyers, Trump explained that he planned to separate his business and political interests by handing over the reins to his son, and not touching them again until he left office. More detailed questions into this plan were not allowed. True to form, Trump used the opportunity to pat himself on the back, describing himself as the greatest job creator on Earth.

In reality, this even was not really a press conference. It was, however, a preliminary taste of how the president-elect plans to deal with critical journalists. "You're fired," he said in closing. It was meant in a joke, directed towards his sons, if they did not handle his businesses properly. Of all the journalists present, not one laughed.

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