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December 16, 2017

Why the Press and Media Can’t Back Down


Over the last few weeks, something really extraordinary and, from my perspective, unique has been happening. As this president and his administration continue to lie and deflect about their reprehensible conduct, the press and the media have stood their ground and held them accountable. The recent reporting in both The New York Times and The Washington Post concerning Russian ties with the then Trump campaign has been among the finest investigative journalism we’ve seen since the days of Watergate.

I’m also pleasantly surprised at the pushback I hear from cable news hosts who are rightly alarmed at not only being called “fake news” but being called “the enemy of the American people.” Chris Wallace of Fox News handed Reince Priebus his lunch in a heated exchange between the two. “You don’t get to tell us what to do, Reince.”

When Priebus attempted to deflect by saying President Obama took plenty of shots at Fox News. Wallace responded by saying, “No, he took shots, and we didn’t like them, and frankly we don’t like this either. But he never went as far President Trump has, and that’s what’s concerning, because it seems like he crosses a line when he talks about that we’re an enemy of the people. That is concerning.”

Don Lemon of CNN recently called out a Trump supporter on his show who was labeling a legitimate news story about the costs to the American taxpayer of protecting the First Family as fake news. “Please stop it with that stupid talking point, that it is a fake news story. If you don’t want to participate in the news stories on this network, then don’t come on and participate. But don’t call them fake because you don’t agree with them. Go on.”

When the Trump supporter wouldn’t stop, Lemon abruptly ended the segment and “thanked” everyone for participating. Wow, I’ve never been all that much of a fan of Lemon, but after watching that back and forth, my respect for him just went up a couple of notches.

I’ve been seeing this a lot lately, and I am indeed encouraged. If the role of the Fourth Estate is to hold power accountable, then so far so good; it will certainly have its work cut out for it in the coming months, if not years. That’s why it is essential that it not back down. Now, more than ever, the American people need a free press and media that has the courage to report the truth, even while the executive branch continues to berate and question their validity.

Look, I’ve made no secret of my contempt for the mainstream media in this country, but my critique of them had to do with their inability and sometimes unwillingness to do their jobs as journalists. Too often they’ve been lazy and easily distracted. Donald Trump has, without quite realizing it, lit a fire under this moribund industry and awoken the sleeping giant within. It’s as though the ghosts of Murrow and Cronkite have risen from the grave and invaded the collective body of the press.

Well it’s about fucking time. Maybe if this industry had done its job a year and a half ago, we wouldn’t be in this predicament now, but crying over spilt milk won’t solve anything. What’s done is done. What we need now isn’t recrimination but fortitude; fortitude in the face of power. Because, as Chris Cillizza wrote in The Washington Post, there is a “strategy” at work here for Trump.

In bashing the media so publicly and relentlessly, he hopes to divert attention from questions about his administration’s ties to Russia, legal problems surrounding his travel ban and the broader sense of chaos that seems to reign at the White House. He knows there are few subjects about which his followers are more passionate than the perceived moral corruption of the media — so what better way to rally them to his cause?

Bret Stephens of Time elaborates further:

I think it’s important not to dismiss the president’s reply simply as dumb. We ought to assume that it’s darkly brilliant — if not in intention than certainly in effect. The president is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact, but by denying the claim that facts are supposed to have on an argument.

That should scare any reasonably sober individual. A society that cannot discern true from false and has nothing it can anchor itself to as definitive or certain, is a society that will inevitably fall for anything or anyone. Was it not Lenin who said, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth?” Ironic if true because Steve Bannon, Trump’s senior adviser and propaganda minister, is an admirer of Lenin, and is also consumed with destroying the state and all its apparatus, which includes the press and media.

The threat could not be more real or the challenge more daunting. If the Fourth Estate cannot be the arbiters of truth, if they cannot stand up to this demagogue in the Oval Office, then this marvelous experiment we call democracy is finished. And like another well-known, infamous figure of the 20th century, Donald Trump will be our last president and our first dictator.

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Peter Fegan

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