Would President Donald Trump actually execute journalists? Maybe not. But, according to his ex-national security adviser, John Bolton, Trump at one point called journalists “scumbags” who should be jailed and “executed.”

The president’s ire at the news media is no secret. He frequently refers to journalists as “enemies of the people,” a turn of phrase he borrowed from a long line of dictators like Joseph Stalin who, in their time, actually did jail and execute reporters. He rails endlessly against “fake news,” which is any news story that gets too close to the truth about his gross incompetence, chronic self-absorption and perpetual mendacity. He rips into White House correspondents who dare ask him challenging questions and riles up campaign crowds by taunting the members of the media who cover his public events.

All presidents have had complaints about news coverage. Some presidents, including the two Roosevelts and John F. Kennedy, were adept at finding allies in the press corps. Others, such as Richard Nixon, had contentious relations with the media. But all occupants of the White House have understood that a free society cannot function without a free press – all, that is, until Trump.  In Trump’s mind, the only legitimate media are those that give him ceaseless praise and loyalty. Like his soul mate, Vladimir Putin, Trump seems to believe the press should be free only to magnify his own magnificence.

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