Will the real fake news please stand up?
At his most recent theatrical production in Phoenix, Donald Trump bore down relentlessly on his “fake news” meme, accusing the media of the deepest, darkest of offenses against him, against America and of being just plain “bad people.” From his point of view, he may be right. For example, the press noticed that Trump planned his Phoenix hoopla just after the national revulsion that met his statement regarding the Charlottesville riot. Also, the big, bad Washington Post had the nerve to publish Trump’s 1000 lies, exaggerations, fairy tales, etc. since the inauguration. Talk about fake news!
As an example of how the press lies about him, he read the statement he made the night of the Charlottesville riot. He read most of it including, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence” conveniently leaving out the phrase “on many sides” …”on many sides” — the very words that marked Trump equalizing those defending the statue’s removal with the armed white supremacists and Nazi attackers. Trump converted that part of the coverage to “I just didn’t say it soon enough!” But the crowd at Phoenix either didn’t notice the difference or didn’t care. It’s easier to castigate the media than to think through such complicated dynamics. Maybe that should be the Post’s 1001st lie.
Interesting isn’t it? The press (i.e. media) has held a very special place in America since the days of Ben Franklin, often referred to as “The Fourth Estate.” Thomas Jefferson, who was vilified almost daily by the press of the day, nonetheless declared, “If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.” Now, all of a Trump sudden they’re “failing” and lying, etc. but oddly, only about Trump! With all that, he doesn’t hesitate to meet with The New York Times’ and Post’s editorial boards when he has something to snow—say. Of course, it’s obvious to people with a brain that he must try to destroy the press because they’re telling the truth about the president, as they have done for more than 200 years. Like he had to fire acting Attorney General Sally Yates and FBI Director, Jim Comey for the same reason, and Comey suddenly became a “nut job.” And the newspapers and TV networks that record and report these events are “enemies of the people.” Not that the press is perfect. The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, put it best:
Critics are right that we in the national media are often out of touch with working-class America, and distressingly often, we are lap dogs instead of watchdogs.
Yet for all our failings, journalism remains an indispensable constraint on power. Trump has systematically tried to delegitimize the institutions that hold him accountable — courts, prosecutors, investigators, the media — and that’s the context for his vilification of all them, for we collectively provide monitoring that outrages him.
I’d suggest those folks who believe the media “hates America,” take the time to find out for themselves. Go down to the local newspaper office and look around. Meet an editor or two and ask them about their work. Go online and check out one or two of the Posts’ 1000 lies and fake news. Make some calls. Find out for yourself where the information came from. Trump likes to say the press has no sources. Well, of course, they often can’t reveal their sources as he well knows. He accuses the press of misrepresenting him. How is that possible when everything is on video tape? I just watched one of the administration’s increasingly rare press briefings and I would estimate that Sarah Huckabee Sanders answered approximately 20% of the questions, awkwardly ducking the rest one way or another. And some of those answers were little more than White House boilerplate.
In Phoenix, Trump said CNN was turning off their cameras and refusing to air him – as he spoke into those same CNN’s cameras! Check the coverage for yourself. Have you noticed the rope line of men and women with cameras at the back of the room whenever Trump appears? Do you really believe those poor schlumps are part of some kind of vast conspiracy to misrepresent Donald Trump? Ask yourself what any newspaper or TV station would have to gain by trying to “erase our country’s heritage.” How would they do such a thing? Yes, there are some anti-administration blogs and newsletters mostly in social media, but don’t confuse those with established news organizations.
As I pointed out in an earlier post, silencing or controlling the press is one of the first actions of authoritarian governments and dictators of various stripes. Indeed, some repressive governments even now have begun using Trump’s denigration of the media to justify attacks on their own media, and limiting access to US press according to a report in The New York Times. Increasingly, with Trump’s erratic behavior, the Russia probe and more, the press may be our only way to maintain sanity.
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