In 2017 in Manila, then-President Donald Trump talked up his “great relationship” with Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine strongman. Reporters present pressed Trump on whether he had pressed Duterte on his human rights violations, such as large-scale extrajudicial killings of thousands. Duterte brushed them off — and referred to journalists as “the spies” at the meeting. Trump chuckled.

In 2019, Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin commiserated over a coterie of journalists. “Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia but we do,” said the American president. To which Putin responded, in English: “We also have. It’s the same.”

There are grave consequences when a leader of the U.S., which ought to be a paragon of press freedom, abandons that role, throws in with dictators and demonizes the media as “the enemy of the people.” When even an American president sympathizes with tyrants’ attacks on civil society and free expression, it becomes a vexing challenge for journalists in those nations to galvanize the world in service of their cause.

The Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, will serve as a healthy corrective. Ressa’s Rappler news organization held Duterte to account through in-depth reporting; Duterte’s regime has tormented her and it with 10 arrests over two years. Muratov is editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper critical of Putin’s thuggish rule; six of its staff members have been killed since 1993.

From Riyadh to Hong Kong to Mexico City, journalists who in good faith seek to hold the powerful to account are in the crosshairs. They deserve not only the support of the Norwegian Nobel committee, but of America, but of Americans.

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This American Opinion editorial is the opinion of the editorial board of the New York Daily News.

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