I have a few thoughts I’d like to share in light of the current administration’s rhetoric concerning the media.
During his campaign, Donald Trump expressed the feeling that media coverage didn’t accurately reflect his campaign, his actions and the priorities of Americans. He continues to do so as president.
This is evident in the recent popularity of the phrase “fake news,” as well as some of Trump’s more fervent tweets concerning the press. Email bulletins sent out by the GOP ask party members if they support Trump’s efforts to fight against dishonest media.
In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February, Trump criticized organizations that have published material which reflects poorly upon him, labeling them as “fake news” and declaring the media to be “the enemy of the American people.”
The day after the CPAC speech, Trump restricted access of several news organizations, including the New York Times, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the BBC and others to an off-camera press briefing held by Press Secretary Sean Spicer — an unusual breach of tradition in the relationship between the White House and the press. The administration allowed a hand-picked selection of media outlets to attend, including Breitbart, the Washington Times and the One America News Network as well as TV networks CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC.
This isn’t completely unprecedented. The Obama administration received criticism for an equally ill-advised attempt to exclude Fox News from interviews with top administration officials. However, the Trump administration seems to have made a battle against the media into one of its main priorities — a smart political move for sure, particularly in gaining the support of conservative Americans who feel that their viewpoints are often not covered accurately.
This obvious trend of making the media into a scapegoat is truly frightening to me (and not just because it threatens my job prospects as a Communication major).
Part of the media’s role in modern democracy is that of the “watchdog,” keeping leaders accountable and keeping institutions transparent. It is seriously sketchy to me that an elected official is actively campaigning against an institution that’s traditionally intended to hold him accountable.
Additionally, the public deserves coverage from a variety of news sources — even ones they don’t agree with. Even ones that have a clear bias.
It’s a citizen’s responsibility to critically analyze what they consume, and that means we must allow a variety of news sources access to government officials so that Americans have access to a range of sources and make informed decisions for themselves.
The Trump administration largely claims to be fighting fake news for the benefit of Americans. I definitely agree that it’s good for Americans to keep their media accountable — critical consumption of the media is a wonderful thing.
For example, it’s worth questioning a news organization that receives funding from political candidates or their families. While I’m generally not a huge fan of Breitbart, I did see a Breitbart article recently that questioned the validity of an AP poll that was conducted by an openly liberal organization and used a sample that was disproportionately composed of respondents from traditionally liberal groups — and rightly so.
Another great example is when Buzzfeed acted irresponsibly by publishing unsubstantiated reports (papers that many other news organizations refused to publish) that made dramatic claims about the Trump administration. It’s worth pointing out here that not only did readers criticize Buzzfeed for this, but other news organizations such as CNN also condemned the group’s actions — in many cases, the media keep each other accountable.
To summarize, it’s healthy for citizens in a functioning democracy to be critical of the media they consume. Trump isn’t merely being critical of the media for the benefit of Americans, however, as much as he purports to do so. He’s making the media into a scapegoat. And when one of the most powerful men in the country does this, it opens up a whole bunch of opportunities for abuse of power.
A quick Google search will show you several accounts of the factual inaccuracies President Trump and his administration have claimed during his time in office. I’m not talking conflicting opinions, either, or dubious measurements — I’m talking factual and numerical inaccuracies.
The most notorious example of this is when KellyAnne Conway reported inaccurate inauguration numbers that were way higher than the actual figures.
In a conference concerning the inauguration turnout numbers, Sean Spicer implied that President Trump has no need for the press. “As long as he serves as the messenger for this incredible movement he will take his message directly to the American people, where his focus will always be,” Spicer said. It sounds noble, except that an unfortunate portion of what our President is communicating are self-serving falsehoods.
There’s a lot that can be improved when it comes to American media coverage, but Trump’s rhetoric concerning the media isn’t productive. It’s damaging, unnecessarily divisive and does little to actually help the American people or criticize the media in a constructive way. At worst, it’s an active attempt to discredit an institution that holds the administration accountable.
Criticize the media all you want. That means you’re thinking critically about it. That means you care.
But also recognize that the media is an institution that fosters open debate, encourages transparency and keeps our leaders accountable. It matters. It exists for a reason.
In lieu of treating the media as a scapegoat when it reports something you disagree with or perceive as inaccurate, I encourage you to actively participate in the media you consume — including this publication. This includes writing letters to the editor, reaching out to members of the media, sharing articles and your thoughts about them on social media and having informed debates with your friends. And hey, if you disagree with this article, great — please send me a letter. Let’s start a conversation.