When I first got involved in politics, a wise old labor organizer told me the old adage: Never get in a whizzing contest with someone who buys ink by the barrel. It was good advice then some 35 years ago. I am no longer sure that is true today. The question for me is quite simply: Why does the mainstream media continue to cover and report on every utterance, threat, tweet, lie, and insult that comes out of the mouth of the president and most of his administration?
It has long been the tradition in our democratic form of government envisioned by its founders that a free and uncensored press is vital to its survival:
“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” – Thomas Jefferson
“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” – Benjamin Franklin
“The freedom of the press should be inviolate.” – John Quincy Adams
“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” – James Madison
“I am… for freedom of the press, and against all violations of the Constitution to silence by force and not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents.” – Thomas Jefferson
The press, both print and electronic, has a long tradition in our nation. The people have a right, guaranteed by our Constitution, to know the truth of the activities of our government and its effect on the governed. It would seem it would be a normal expectation. However, these are anything but normal times. It may be time for the press to rethink their mission and responsibility.
In 1897, Adolph S. Ochs, the owner of The New York Times, created the famous slogan “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” which still appears on the masthead of the newspaper today. Regarding the dogged effort of the Trump White House and its administration to dominate every news cycle, I wonder if the fourth estate has actually become Trump’s pawns in their apparent effort to denigrate and cast doubt on the veracity of the mainstream media?
Ever since Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president of the United States, he has been critical of the mainstream media if it reports something that doesn’t agree with what he does or says. The exception is Fox News. The “fair and balanced” network of Hannity, Ingraham, Pirro et al is simply a flak for Trump. It has lost all credibility.
The Washington Post and FactCheck.org have verified thousands of incidences of Trump and his administration lying to the public and/or the media. The constant whine of “fake news” and personal insults aimed at members of the media have taken its toll. A Monmouth University poll taken in April of this year showed that 77% of Americans believe the mainstream media report “fake news,” 31% of the respondents said media outlets regularly spread “fake news,” while 46% said they do occasionally. It is not surprising that 31% responded the way they did. Those may well be Trump’s base. However, the 46% is a little harder to discern. What is meant by occasionally? Nonetheless, polling results like this are disturbing. It would appear that if a lie is told often and long enough, it becomes truth in the minds of some Americans. In my opinion, therein lies a very real threat to our democracy. If at some point the American public no longer believes in the credibility of a free press, what replaces it? I believe the answer is in state run “news” otherwise known as propaganda.
Which brings us back around to where I began, the ink by the barrel adage. If Trump and his administration minions insist on calling the mainstream media “fake news,” continue to call the mainstream media “the enemy of the people,” if he follows through on banning certain members of the media from White House briefings then it is time for the mainstream media to take extraordinary measures to maintain their credibility and self-respect. If Trump believes the mainstream media is nothing but “fake news” and “the enemy of the people,” why cover him? Let him believe what he wants, but don’t give him a venue to spew his nonsense. It is hardly “news fit to print.”
The mainstream media can start by refusing to run his campaign rallies. How many times does the public need to hear the same old red meat bombast to his base? It is not news. It is a show put on by a con, not worthy of thirty minutes of air time on the major cable news channels.
Why should reporters from the mainstream media sit through another “press briefing” from Sarah Huckabee Sanders? She is only going to offer what Trump wants her to say or not say. A complete waste of time. The media should walk out or just not show up.
Stop covering Trump’s public cabinet meetings which are nothing more than his various cabinet members heaping praise on their leader and stroking his ego for public consumption.
I am sure, given the chance, the hard-working members of the media can contribute other ways to effectively blunt the assault on a free press. It is time for them and their editors/producers to use the power of the press.
Trump won’t like it. He will scream and whine how unfair it is. Nonetheless, he is not a king or a strong man like Putin, Xi, or Kim. There are plenty of stories out there that can be reported which are positive examples of America’s traditional values. Stories that unite us and don’t divide us. Stories of courage, generosity, compassion, selflessness, sacrifice, joy, and true patriotism. In the end, this is what America is all about and this should be reported to the American people.