Reuters Editor-in-Chief Steve Adler told his staff Tuesday that “the air is thick with questions and theories about how to cover the new administration” headed by President Trump, but that “we already know what to do because we do it every day and we do it all over the world.”
“To state the obvious,” Adler continued in a memo to journalists, “Reuters is a global news organization that reports independently and fairly in more than 100 countries, including many in which the media is unwelcome and frequently under attack. I am perpetually proud of our work in places such as Turkey, the Philippines, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Thailand, China, Zimbabwe and Russia, nations in which we sometimes encounter some combination of censorship, legal prosecution, visa denials, and even physical threats to our journalists.”
Let that sink in for a moment.
Adler stopped short of saying that reporting in Trump's America will be just like working in Russia and Yemen; he wrote later that covering the Trump administration will be “an opportunity for us to practice the skills we've learned in much tougher places.” Still, it is jarring to see the top editor of one of the world's largest news agencies warn that journalists in the United States now need the same tools as those who live under oppressive regimes.
If you think Adler is being hyperbolic here, consider the degree to which Trump and his team check the boxes on the list of threats in the Reuters memo:
Senior White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon recently told the New York Times that the media should “keep its mouth shut.”
Trump said repeatedly during the campaign that he wants to weaken libel protections for journalists, a move that could suppress critical coverage of public officials.
In January, Trump called for a congressional investigation into the leak of relatively mundane information contained in a classified intelligence briefing — a sign that Trump could use the threat of prosecution to deter government officials from making disclosures to the press.
Trump also has a history of taking direct legal action against reporters, such as when he sued author and journalist Timothy O'Brien for describing him as a millionaire, not a billionaire, in a book.
The travel ban Trump signed recently could hinder some reporting efforts. CNN producer Mohammed Tawfeeq, an Iraqi national who has a green card, was among the international travelers detained at U.S. airports over the weekend. Tawfeeq is suing the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies.
Fox executives James and Lachlan Murdoch issued a memo Monday in which they addressed “a time of real uncertainty for many of our colleagues around the world.”
“We want to assure you that we’re doing what we can to assist impacted colleagues and their families,” the Murdochs wrote. “Our immediate focus is on identifying and reaching out to people who may be affected. We are providing them with a range of support, including legal advice and assistance.”
After a tense exchange with Trump during a January news conference, CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta reported that White House press secretary Sean Spicer threatened to throw him out if he continued to push for a chance to ask a question.
Last February, a Secret Service agent choke-slammed a Time magazine photographer who attempted to leave the designated press area to take pictures of protesters during a Trump rally.
Less than two weeks later, Trump's campaign manager was caught on camera grabbing the arm of journalist Michelle Fields, who was attempting to ask a question as Trump left a news conference.
Reporters who cover Trump critically are sometimes subjected to threats of physical violence by his supporters.
The United States is not Turkey or Egypt or Zimbabwe, but Adler's comparisons aren't impossible to understand.