By Nick Riebel || Staff Writer
Whether we are cursed by fate or not, the American people certainly live in interesting times. It is a time when the incumbent president declares that the mainstream news media is the “enemy of the American People.” Throughout the president’s press conference, in which, amongst other things, he seemed to have no idea what uranium was, he told the journalists and reporters gathered there that “‘The public doesn’t believe you people anymore…maybe I had something to do with that’” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/17/business/trump-calls-the-news-media-the-enemy-of-the-people.html?_r=0). It seems clear that Donald Trump has undertaken a deliberate policy of delegitimizing any major political entity which he cannot control or coerce, and that includes our press. This president, who either does not know of, or does not understand, our Constitution and its First Amendment, will likely pursue a policy in which the media is either useless in its role in informing citizens of current events and being a watchdog for our government’s activities, or directly or indirectly controlled by his administration (with some overlap between these two scenarios entirely possible). So, although I do not believe that this president is entirely rational, attacking the media makes sense from this perspective. Indeed, it is his best option for dealing with entities which call him out on his lies and behavior—claim that they are, in fact, the ones who lie. And whom will his supporters believe: the man they revere, or the institution they have been taught for decades to distrust and even hate?
It should be noted that the professional, mainstream media, and the reporters and journalists who make it up, are not perfect. They have been responsible for lazy and inaccurate reporting in the past (see their conduct leading up to and the beginning of the Iraq War). They have often let politicians get away with falsehoods, or other acts of disingenuousness, due to not wanting to lose access to men and women who wield power. And, despite the myth that the media is some nefarious left-wing or liberal entity, it is unfortunately far from the truth, as wealthy interests ensure that the media seldom, if ever, reports news from a perspective that is not approved by the wealthy and powerful. See the reporting on the Great Recession — you will find that there were far too few calls to investigate the individuals whose greed and recklessness made it possible.
In other words, the mainstream media is an entity made up of many different people and parts, but which is generally a pro-Wall Street, pro-Establishment, tepid watchdog which is a little too willing to show people entertainment over important information. And President Trump still feels that it is too threatening to him. Only that media which is too weak or too cowardly to challenge him (or too cynical, see Fox News) will be allowed to survive. What path will American media outlets take?
In the past, when I usually thought of brave, bold reporting, CNN wasn’t the first thing to spring to mind. But I have to give credit where credit is due, in that whereas in the past they let politicians get away with deceit, they refuse to not let the more obvious liar, Trump, get away. And other media companies are deciding that perhaps their access to power isn’t as precious as making sure that Trump is covered by an un-intimidated press. And, for Trump, this represents a serious problem. He cannot completely censor journalism without invoking dictatorship, and he cannot ignore their reporting, as it is a clear and present threat to his legitimacy and popularity, such as it is, amongst Americans. Hence, his strategy of de-legitimization and demonization of the media.
Will the intrepid reporters of the New York Times and CNN be cowed, or enticed with illusory promises of access, willing to forgive Trump some outrageous fibs now and then so that their relationship with the White House can be comfortable? Or will Trump make that increasingly difficult to the point of being impossible, and the media is forced into not only a strong watchdog role, but one that is aggressively critical of Trump’s administration and Trump himself?
In this battle, Trump will emerge victorious if he succeeds in presenting media outlets who oppose his administration as “fake” and working for the opposition (it should not be lost on the reader that the Republicans have done this for decades, hence the myth of the “liberal media”). Trump, though, takes the old GOP strategy to new extremes, in that he will attempt to not only defeat the mainstream media’s efforts to hold him accountable without turning to overly tyrannical measures, but he will sidestep the Fox News and conservative talk-radio middlemen to broadcast his propaganda directly to the American people.
After all, if the mainstream media is the enemy of the American people, surely, you can only trust what Trump tells you is happening in the world. This is what Republican Representative Lamar Smith urged us to do, after all: http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/25/politics/lamar-smith-donald-trump-news/. I urge you to be on your guard: if the media fails, we could see the rise of a new era of “journalism”— that in which many (not all, but many) get their news directly from the government, with many of those believing it to be the gospel truth, regardless of its veracity.
In other words, journalists and reporters have to do their job, or they will essentially cede their duties to a president who will make certain that the media he controls will never contradict or challenge him. And even if Trump doesn’t strike a decisive blow against press freedom, it is not difficult to imagine that his successors, given the expanding role of executive power (which seems difficult to turn back), will.
We still have a free press. It’s still worth saving. It is not too late to save it from corruption or destruction. Journalists if you do your jobs well, I think that Americans will pay closer, more serious attention to what you’re saying. If your ethics don’t motivate you, perhaps your self-interest will. If you fail, American democracy is gravely wounded, perhaps fatally.
Senior Nick Riebel is a staff writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.