Trumps tempest against the media wrong, unfair
The truth you speak doth lack some gentleness and time to speak it in:
You rub the sore, when you should bring the plaster. –The Tempest
By now most newspapers are wary of Trump’s temper against the media. His effronteries began even before the Inauguration: the White House ignored the tradition of offering press corps credentials to attend the Balls. Since then he has routinely insulted the media with child-like taunts. He tried to downsize the White House Press Room—and the White House credential press pool. At Mar-A-Lago, he deliberately confined reporters to a room with taped-up windows so they couldn’t view the golf course.
By now news and political adversaries are also used to jeers on Twitter. His rants include accusing liberal-leaning media of being fake, and even creating media outlet “blacklists.” His contempt likens the perspective of Senior Advisor Steve Bannon of Breitbart News fame.
Okay to wrong the media
The Trump Administration also is good at underinforming, disallowing access, and ditching the press, despite the fact that the press corps are responsible for providing news for the benefit of the public. For instance, White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, withheld press credentials from traditional favorites while promoting exclusive briefings with conservative news outlets. The President himself shunned the White House Correspondents’ Dinner this April 29th in another break from tradition. He also encouraged his staff to also ditch the Dinner, and jetted off to a rally for himself in Pennsylvania.
In fact, following Trump on his travels is not cheap. They include several jaunts per month to Mar-A-Lago, costing taxpayers approximately $3 million per weekend. It costs over $100,000 per day for Secret Service and security details for his wife and son in New York City. Additional Secret Service are provided to protect his other sons and family members.
One would think that for an estimated $120 million per year in security and personal travel costs, the public is entitled to accountability from the President, including a willingness to take questions from the media.
Not so, judging from the President’s latest tempest.
Declares new war on the media
While Trump traveled on successful diplomatic missions, media questions arose regarding the FBI investigation into son-in-law Jared Kushner over reports Kushner wanted to establish a “back door” communication channel with Russia.
According to Reuters, President Trump has made it his priority after he returns that he will be establishing a “war room” to contain the Russia scandal. What kind of improved messaging, tackling of, or fencing off of the media occurs remains to be seen. Hopefully, it will not culminate in jarring full-blown military war with North Korea as a final distractionary gambit.
From choice of words to attacks on the media, it is clear that the President and the White House is already quite distracted. Assembling a new team of aides and political professionals and more lawyers for a communications team is one thing. Trump’s plans to hold more rallies and take more trips out of Washington to put forth his agenda is quite another. If the goal of the White House is to try and “contain the crisis” rallies won’t necessarily help the Republicans. All the GOP wants is to score on healthcare reform, tax reform, and budget cuts.
More to the point, anywhere the President travels, there will be reporters dogging his heels, trying to ask questions, hoping to clarify information. Unless, of course, the President decides to intensify his war on the media. In fact, there are too many signs the President and GOP politicians are increasingly adopting repressive measures.
GOP legislators intimidating reporters
A run-down by Poynter and watchdog media organizations indicates that politicians and their security guards are intensifying verbal and bodily assaults on reporters, whether or not they hold press credentials.
Most recent of these was the body-slamming incident by Montana Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte against Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. After winning the Special Election by only a few points, Gianforte issued an apology. However this did not stop other conservative politicians from giving an open thumbs-up on Gianforte’s victory, including one by the President. Texas governor Greg Abbot, at an indoor shooting range, even joked about using reporters as target practice.
According to ThinkProgress:
Abbot is far from alone in thinking Gianforte’s attack on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs is fun and games. A number of House Republicans cracked jokes about the assault…
According to FAIR, there have been at least three incidents in May. Reporter Nathaniel Herz was slapped by state senator David Wilson of Alaska because Wilson “didn’t like his story.” West Virginia reporter Dan Heyman is in jail on criminal charges for trying to ask Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price a question regarding healthcare and pre-existing conditions. Veteran reporter John M. Donnelley was “pinned against the wall” by security guards at the FCC and forcibly removed for trying to ask a commissioner a post-conference question.
Public officials no longer public servants
The alarming rise in assaults points to blatant attempts to repress or censor the media by callous politicians who neither subscribe to public service nor believe they are public servants. Dr. Tom Price hailed Heyman’s arrest as good news. Gianforte won’t guarantee an open-door policy for Capitol Hill reporters. Almost every day President Trump slanders the news establishment. For instance on May 28, 2017 CNN reports that he tweeted:
“It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media.” (8:33am)
“Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names….” (8:34am)
“….it is very possible that those sources don’t exist but are made up by fake news writers. #FakeNews is the enemy!” (8:35am, 8:45am)
According to Poynter, Trump’s tendency to brand media outlets he doesn’t like as “the enemy of the people” is inciting others to follow suit.
Trump’s war on the press isn’t just name-calling. It has a more insidious intent: to discredit a profession he fears, because he sees journalism as a challenge to his authority. Trump wants to undermine trust in those who earned the name “muckrakers” by exposing muck and giving voice to disenfranchised working people long before Trump knew the meaning of those words.
The demise of the 4th Estate
The news media has long functioned as the indomitable Fourth Estate, helping balance the powers that be. Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin firmly believed in freedom of the press and the importance of public debate. Protected by the Bill of Rights, freedom of expression necessarily includes provision of quality news. At colleges and universities, the study of rhetoric emphasizes ways to analyze, expose, and comment on current events. In communications courses this would include discretion in naming or protecting sources, ascertaining the facts, reviewing the evidence, and interviewing questions.
Arguably, the disrespect of journalists has mounted since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The ever-renewing Patriot Act has encouraged monitoring of all citizens and journalists alike. Few protections have been offered by conglomerates as online journalism has mushroomed. Ralph Nader observed that self-censorship is working its way into the newsrooms. Journalists who dare to question the official propaganda face dismissal or criminal investigation.
This is why some pundits even accuse President Trump of wanting to replicate the political organs in Russia, China, or Turkey.
If a timeline of authoritarian repression on journalism were created, it would seem as if the United States has become an authoritarian democracy. In 2013, a petition was signed at the Washington National Press Club asking President Obama to honor Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Too many journalists were facing lengthy delays and other forms of obstructionism by the Department of Justice. A record number of whistleblowers had been fired or indicted for taking a stand against corruption.
According to The Week, in retrospect perhaps Trump is only following the precedent of his predecessors who crafted an increasingly powerful Executive Office.
People marching and protesting has not taken away President Trump’s ability to misuse all the power shortsighted partisans of the recent past entrusted to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (and, now, their orange successor). Marching has not erected institutional strongholds built to weather any presidential storm…. The presidency is supposed to be administrative, acting on congressional direction — George Washington gave his office the humble definition of “chief magistrate.” Today it is an expansive role of unparalleled and, with Trump’s 100-day mark come and gone, still unfettered power.
For the exceptional Trump, his exceptional Cabinet, and the movers-and-shakers in the Republican-held Congress the norms of etiquette towards the 99% don’t apply. Where under normal conditions—workplaces, schools, public malls, and elsewhere—bullying and harassment is not tolerated, citizen journalists trying to do good work can be bullied and harassed.
The Elite are Bullies, of course
Arguably, bullying comes with the territory. Those working to pass bills that will rob pensioners, eliminate healthcare and foodstamps for the poor, privatize housing projects, and have badly deteriorated bridges collapse don’t really believe in civil rights as defined by Americans. Like the robber barons of third or second-world countries, they believe in entitlement for the rich.
Thus, justifying assault-and-battery on their part is not hard to imagine. In that alternative world order, only those daring to report on the reality as seen from the ground must categorically belong to the basket of deplorables.
You cram those words into my ears against the stomach of my sense.