Friday 22 February 2019

Clinton: Free press is under open assault in Trump era

Donald Trump’s defeated rival in the 2016 presidential election took aim at his regime.

Hillary Clinton speaks during the ninth annual Women in the World Summit in New York (AP)
Hillary Clinton speaks during the ninth annual Women in the World Summit in New York (AP)

By Jocelyn Noveck

Hillary Clinton has said press rights and free speech are “under open assault” under Donald Trump, and has likened his administration to an authoritarian regime.

The former US secretary of state did not mince words in a lecture on freedom of speech in New York City on Sunday night.

She said Mr Trump seems to reject the role of a free press in a democracy in “an all-out war on truth, facts and reason”.

The former Democratic candidate said it was no wonder that her opponent in the 2016 election had apparently joked about throwing reporters in jail to make them talk.

Mrs Clinton was referring to recent revelations from memos by former FBI director James Comey.

The defeated 2016 presidential candidate took aim at Donald Trump's regime (AP)

She told the PEN America World Voices festival in Manhattan: “We are living through an all-out war on truth, facts and reason.

“When leaders deny things we can see with our own eyes, like the size of a crowd at the inauguration, when they refuse to accept settled science when it comes to urgent challenges like climate change … it is the beginning of the end of freedom, and that is not hyperbole. It’s what authoritarian regimes through history have done.”

Mrs Clinton, who was delivering the festival’s Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, began by discussing threats to press freedom and free speech around the globe, including in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

But she soon turned her remarks to the United States under Mr Trump, saying that such freedoms are “in the most perilous position I’ve seen in my lifetime”.

Mrs Clinton said of her 2016 election opponent: “Today we have a president who seems to reject the role of a free press in our democracy.

“Although obsessed with his own press coverage, he evaluates it based not on whether it provides knowledge or understanding, but solely on whether the daily coverage helps him and hurts his opponents.”

What do I do? Do I turn around and say: 'Back up, you creep?' Hillary Clinton, reflecting on Donald Trump's debates behaviour

And she added: “Now, given his track record, is it any surprise that according to the latest round of revelations, he joked about throwing reporters in jail to make them talk?”

The reference to revelations from memos by former FBI director James Comey was Clinton’s only reference to Comey, who was sacked by Mr Trump.

Mrs Clinton’s remarks were followed by an onstage conversation with Nigerian-born novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, largely about the 2016 election.

Under friendly questioning, the former secretary of state was asked if she had “hit back” enough during the campaign — a reference to a childhood episode in which, Mrs Clinton has written, her mother gave her permission to hit back at a bully.

“I now think that I didn’t,” Mrs Clinton said. She described the much-discussed moment when Mr Trump was “stalking me on that debate stage”.

She recalled thinking: “What do I do? Do I turn around and say: ‘Back up, you creep?'”

But then, she said, “the coverage would have been: ‘She can’t take the pressure, she got angry.'”

Mrs Clinton described an 'all-out war on truth, facts and reason' (AP)

And so, she said she told herself: “You just have to be calm and in control. Because ultimately what the country wants is someone who is not blowing up in the Oval Office.

“Well, you know that did not work out so well,” she said, to laughter in the audience.

Ms Adichie expressed admiration for Mrs Clinton but confessed to some disappointment that in her Twitter profile, she describes herself first as a “wife” – followed by mom, grandma and then her professional titles, ending with 2016 presidential candidate. The author said she would have preferred Mrs Clinton begin with “should have been a damned good president”.

Mrs Clinton spoke of the difficulty she had in finding a balance between one’s personal roles and relationships and one’s professional roles. “It shouldn’t be either-or,” she said, noting that she had long searched for the right mix.

“But when you put it that way, I am going to change it,” she said of her Twitter profile, to laughter and applause.

As of Monday morning, she had not yet done so.

Press Association

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