Donald Trump has long made it clear that journalists are the enemy of the people. His pick for Attorney General is willing to do what any Attorney General would do to enemies of the people — he’s ready to prosecute journalists.
William Barr said he could conceive of jailing journalists as “a last resort.” He explained his reasoning under questioning from Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I can conceive of situations where as a last resort, and where a news organization has run through a red flag or something like that, knows that they’re putting out stuff that will hurt the country,” Barr testified, “there could be a situation where someone could be held in contempt.”
These remarks come as a global threat to journalists is on the rise. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker found 11 journalists were arrested in the line of duty in 2018, often while reporting on protests or interactions between civilians and police. And one of the more militant arms of the right wing, the NRA, has made overt threats toward journalists.
And the president has made it clear in casting journalists as enemies of America that the bar for harming the country could be as low as disagreeing with administration policy.
When asking questions critical of President Trump, CNN reporter Jim Acosta was accused of assaulting a female staffer and lost his credentials to the White House. To support their action, the White House shared doctored video that made Acosta’s actions look hostile.
The move was such a brazen shot across the media’s bow that even Fox News filed an amicus brief in favor of CNN in a lawsuit against the Trump administration.
In the context of Acosta’s story and reporters already being arrested for covering sensitive issues, in the context of right-wing groups and the President of the United States characterizing the media as acting as enemies of the American people, the idea that an Attorney General might prosecute journalists for “putting out stuff that will hurt the country” is a dangerously subjective idea.
We know what Trump thinks hurting the country means.
"Is the press the enemy of the people?" –@ainsleyearhardt
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) August 22, 2018
“If I do something well, it’s not reported. Other than in the 20 percent,” he said.
That means that news outlets that don’t adequately praise the president are the enemy of the people, and by their nature as the enemy of the people must be publishing content that the administration feels harms America.
And Barr is willing to arrest them for it.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.