As the 2020 election heats up, President Donald Trump is reportedly getting a little help from a loose network of allies to target journalists who may write critical stories. In what appears to be the latest chapter of efforts by Trump’s allies to attack the messenger, the New York Times reports that conservative activists have compiled “dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.” The group has already released some of the information, but those familiar with the effort say that is only a small part of what they have on file, ready to release whenever it is convenient. And it isn’t just journalists who may be targeted, but also their family members.
The Times acknowledges that their sources may well be exaggerating the extent of the operation as a way to try to intimidate journalists. But the truth is that the network has already been at work and has damaged the careers of its targets by what appears to be a coordinated campaign that even includes the president’s son. The network appeared to be out in full force this past week when Breitbart published a piece about the anti-Semitic and racist tweets that a Times editor had written a decade ago. Donald Trump Jr. retweeted a link to the piece, and other prominent Republicans followed suit.
At the heart of this alleged operation is Arthur Schwartz, a conservative consultant who is close to Donald Trump Jr. and has worked with former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon. It was Schwartz who threatened the New York Times that it could “expose a few of their other bigots” after revealing the anti-Semitic social media posts of the Times editor. Schwartz wrote Saturday that his “role in these efforts was profoundly over exaggerated” in the Times piece.
News organizations are warning about the broader implications of this effort. New York Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger said that “the goal of this campaign is clearly to intimidate journalists from doing their job.” A spokesman for CNN, meanwhile, said that when those working on behalf of officials “threaten and retaliate against reporters as a means of suppression, it’s a clear abandonment of democracy for something very dangerous.”