This last year has been a dangerous one for journalists around the globe – a record 262 men and women are imprisoned because of the nature of the work they do, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. It’s part of a disturbing trend of attacking and undermining institutions that exist to hold public officials accountable and to bring light into some of the darkest corners of the world.

Turkey and Egypt – two U.S. allies – and China account for about half of the detained journalists, but the problem extends widely.

President Trump has spent more than a year attacking critical coverage as “fake news”; taking his cue, authoritarian regimes have used similar language to dismiss coverage that exposes scandals, highlights egregious behavior or simply displeases them. It would be quixotic to think that Trump will change his rhetoric or even care about the damage he causes when, as the leader of the Free World, he openly undercuts the notion of a free and independent media.

But his disregard for a free press fits in with his administration’s dangerous abdication of America’s traditional role as defender of human rights around the world. Yes, ours is an imperfect record complicated by acts of injustice within the United States itself, but the United States still must stand by the principles of universal human rights, democracy, and the open and free exchange of ideas. Instead of giving repressive governments cover, he should be calling out regimes that lock away, or kill, those who would question them.

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