Last week, President Trump's lawyers sent a letter to CNN, threatening a lawsuit over what the president deemed "biased reporting practices."

If this threatened lawsuit wasn't another example of two different and alarming patterns of behavior by the president, it would be laughable. In legal circles, it already is. But in the world of the media and press, the would-be joke grew old long ago.

The president has sued CNN, and lost, before. Jim Acosta was serving as the network's White House correspondent and had his press pass revoked, with the administration using an obviously doctored video as justification.

Though they denied being the source, the conspiracy theory site Infowars was implicated in the creation and distribution of the video. But Infowars had help in lending the inauthentic video legitimacy when former Press Secretary Sarah Sanders retweeted it in the effort to explain the banishment of CNN from the White House grounds.

All public figures, from celebrities to politicians, at some point bemoan the coverage they receive in the press. Presidents from both parties have expressed private frustrations with press, withheld information vital to the practice of journalism, reduced the frequency of press conferences, and even outright lied to reporters.

Some have even signed laws that placed harsh boundaries on First Amendment protections. But what is being done under the current administration is both more insidious and more harmful than almost all of those past actions and decisions.

The term "fake news" began as a campaign novelty, but it quickly metastasized into something more sinister. Instead of being used primarily at rallies and in campaign material, it became the main tenant in the administration's approach to media relations. By sheer repetition and its use in official functions, the slogan became a weapon in the war currently being waged against the Fourth Estate. Well outside existing norms that allowed for expressions by public officials of frustration with news outlets and journalists; far beyond the implicit understanding that politicians are very likely to be guarded with, or even outright lie to, reporters; what is happening now is an attack on the institution of the free press and should be called out as such.

For the most part, all of this seems to originate from the obvious thinness of the president's skin and his tendency to resort to bullying and intimidation tactics when he is angry, embarrassed, or feels vulnerable.

Those are the two patterns of behavior that are leading to a dark place in terms of government transparency and accountability for our elected officials: We have a president who believes himself to be beyond criticism and who tends to respond hyper-aggressively when offended.

It is highly unlikely that President Trump himself is at the head of some large and coordinated conspiracy to undermine faith in newspapers, television networks, and other news sources.

It is much more likely that Mr. Trump finds it convenient to ignore facts to either protect his undeniably fragile ego or in pursuit of certain goals and objectives.

If you like those goals and objectives, the end may seem to justify the means. But remember that things like normalizing the use of doctored videos from conspiracy theorists, threatening to sue critics, and weaponizing slogans that in the right context are otherwise harmless, has led to bombs being mailed to the offices of news networks (it is probably not a coincidence that this has happened to CNN) and newspaper offices being the sites of mass shootings.

It is much easier to incite such behavior than to demonstrate that they have no place in a democratic society.

Jason Nichols is District 2 Democratic Party chair, an instructor of political science at Northeastern State University, and former mayor of Tahlequah.

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