Freedom of the press may be guaranteed in the Constitution. But a plurality of Republicans want to give President Trump the authority to close down certain news outlets, according to a new public opinion survey conducted by Ipsos and provided exclusively to The Daily Beast.
The findings present a sobering picture for the fourth estate, with respondents showing diminished trust in the media and increased support for punitive measures against its members. They also illustrate the extent to which Trump’s anti-press drumbeat has shaped public opinion about the role the media plays in covering his administration.
All told, 43 percent of self-identified Republicans said that they believed “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.” Only 36 percent disagreed with that statement. When asked if Trump should close down specific outlets, including CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, nearly a quarter of Republicans (23 percent) agreed and 49 percent disagreed.
Republicans were far more likely to take a negative view of the media. Forty-eight percent of them said they believed “the news media is the enemy of the American people” (just 28 percent disagreed) while nearly four out of every five (79 percent) said that they believed “the mainstream media treats President Trump unfairly.”
But swaths of self-identified Democrats and Independents supported anti-press positions as well. According to the survey, 12 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of Independents agreed that “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior” (74 percent and 55 percent, respectively, disagreed). Additionally, 12 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of Independents agreed that “the news media is the enemy of the American people” (74 percent and 50 percent, respectively, disagreed)
The concept of an enemy press corps has become a staple of Trump’s tweets and public utterances in recent months. Much of it appears prompted by stories about internal frictions within the White House and a growing fear over the state of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.
Members of the press, as well as top officials at some of the nation’s leading publications, have objected to the phrase, arguing that it is both wildly inaccurate and deeply dangerous. They have pointed to mob-like treatment of the media by Trump supporters at various rallies as evidence for their fears. Offered the opportunity, Trump’s spokesperson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, declined to denounce the phrase. Other Trump supports have insisted that he was merely referring to those outlets that spread false information.
But Trump’s daughter Ivanka and his top adviser Kellyanne Conway have both recently said they do not agree that the press is the enemy, while adding that the media plays an important socio-political role.
Respondents to the Ipsos survey seemed to generally share that belief as well. In one of the poll’s few silver linings for the press, 57 percent of all respondents said that they believed news and reporters were “necessary to keep the Trump administration honest” including a plurality of Republicans (39 percent agreeing with that statement compared to 35 percent disagreeing). A slightly less robust 46 percent of respondents said they agreed that “most news outlets try their best to produce honest reporting” (compared to 35 percent who disagreed). And virtually everyone (85 percent of respondents) believed that “freedom of the press is essential for American democracy” (compared to 4 percent opposed to that statement).
But despite support for journalistic principles in the abstract, respondents also seemed inclined to believe that reporters had too much professional protection. According to the survey, 72 percent of all respondents agree it should be easier to sue reporters who knowingly publish false information, including 85 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats.