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Trump vows to fight fake news with a Polish president who’s tried to gag the press

President Trump attacked CNN, MSNBC and other "fake news," at a news conference in Poland on July 6. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Czarek Sokolowski/The Washington Post)

If President Trump needs a tag-team partner for future WWE-style takedowns of news outlets, he might have found an ally in Andrzej Duda. The Polish president has been accused of trying to suppress his country's media outlets and has himself tweeted about the battle against “FAKE NEWS” (like Trump, in all caps).

Trump spent the first leg of his European trip shaking hands and smiling with the center-right president of Poland — although what some perceived as a snub by Duda's wife quickly became the subject of some international Twitter banter.

But later, in another of what has become Trump's routine disruption of the unwritten rules of the U.S. presidency, he went back on the offensive about the media.

We will fight the #FakeNews with you!” Trump said in response to Duda's tweet about fighting the “fake news” regarding how his wife welcomed the Trumps.

Duda's attitude toward the press, particularly toward those who've been critical of his political party and presidency, has raised concerns.

A report by Freedom House, an organization that monitors press freedom across the globe, said Poland's government under Duda was using legislative, political and economic means to “stifle the media and limit dissent and debate within the country.” The report concluded:

A free press can only fulfill its role of holding power accountable if the daily work of journalists is not impeded by ownership concerns, political interference, or a worry about saying “the right thing.”
… Press freedom in Poland is also threatened by a growing atmosphere of polarization and hostility towards the media. Even without further legislative changes, an environment in which media are used as a tool to define who is and isn’t a “real” Polish citizen could drive away investors and journalists, reducing the sector’s vibrancy and diversity.

In January, according to the New York Times, Duda signed a law that allowed his conservative government to appoint and dismiss the executives in charge of public television and radio broadcasters.

Last year, Duda’s Law and Justice Party tried to restrict media access to Poland's Parliament, the Times also reported. Street protests derailed the government's aims.

As The Washington Post's Lally Weymouth reported in March 2016, Duda's government “appears to be dismantling many of the country’s democratic checks and balances.”

During the executives' time together, Duda smiled and nodded in agreement as Trump addressed a reporter's questions about his troubles with CNN and other news outlets.

“They have been fake news for a long time, and they have been covering me in a very, very dishonest way,” Trump told the reporter.

Then he turned toward Duda: “Do you have that also, Mr. President?”

Trump continued: “What we want to see in the United States is honest, beautiful, free — but honest — press. We want to see fair press. I think it's a very important thing. We don’t want fake news … Bad thing, very bad for our country.”

Trump, of course, has had a running battle with the press corps back home.

He posted a clip on Twitter last week showing a mock takedown of a CNN avatar. (Three CNN reporters recently had to resign after they published a later-retracted story linking a member of Trump's transition team to a Russian investment fund.)

Trump has threatened to cancel White House press briefings and at a rally this month denounced “the fake media” that is “trying to silence us.”

A tally by CNN's Jake Tapper found that of the 770 tweets Trump had sent as president by late June, 85 had attacked the media.

After Trump's election, Reporters Without Borders, which compiles the World Press Freedom Index, dropped the United States two spots in its rankings. The organization said Trump's election “set off a witch hunt against journalists. Donald Trump’s repeated diatribes against the Fourth Estate and its representatives — accusing them of being 'among the most dishonest human beings on earth' and of deliberately spreading 'fake news'— compromise a long US tradition of defending freedom of expression.”

And that rhetoric has reverberated, according to the report, helping “to disinhibit attacks on the media almost everywhere in the world, including in democratic countries.”

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