Dating back as far as your blogger’s interest in politics, there has always been an uneasy if not rather hostile relationship between the president and the press that covers him and his administration. But, at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump took that edginess down to a new and unprecedented toxic level.
Referring to the news media as “lying” and “out of control”, the president decried recent articles as “fake news”, meaning that it really wasn’t news but rather, a collection of falsehoods and invalid biases (1). This was met with push-back, not just from the scorned media, but from some conservatives as well. A few of these rebuttals have asserted that Trump is trying to suppress the First Amendment rights of the media. A more reasoned and defensible claim would hold that the president is out to discredit his detractors and marginalize them so that their criticisms of him are either ignored or vigorously rejected as unfounded.
As this push-back in its different forms has gained some traction, defenders of Trump’s attack on the press have come forward with articles that purport to highlight factual errors and biases in the reporting on Trump and his administration by the mainstream media. Their intent is obviously to validate the president’s claims. Your blogger has come across two such pieces and had the chance to both fact-check them and submit them to critical analysis, finally concluding that the best way to characterize them is to say that they themselves are “fake news” about what they claim is “fake news”. If this “double-speak” confuses you, let it be said that these “take-downs” of press stories are filled with factual errors and biases themselves.
By way of presenting some perspective and a contrast, there is this: Like all human enterprises, reporting the news is subject to error and indeed, they do happen. In some instances, the medium involved catches the lapse and self-corrects; i.e. you will find an “erratum” on the inside of the front page, in the op-ed section, or during a subsequent broadcast. On other occasions, a sharp-eyed reader or viewer will sound the alert that a mistake has been made and needs to be fixed.
This refining/corrective feature of the news media stands in sharp contrast to Trump and in particular, his Press Secretary, Sean Spicer. As a steady, daily consumer of political news, your blogger has never witnessed a correct coming from either of the aforementioned. (2). Indeed, far more often that note, Trump will double-down on his error, trying to present it as valid or excuse it by some means. In that same vein, Spicer’s forte is also rationalization.
By way of concluding, there is this: It is one thing for a president to take issue with the news media. Going back decades, every president has done that. But to declare all-out war as Trump has done is quite another matter. The likely outcome of this escalation will be a more focused and diligent media, especially its investigative arm. That is not something a sane leader wants, especially when he and his administration are the subject of three ongoing FBI investigations, with inquiries also set to begin in both houses of Congress. History shows that when things take that sort of turn, they do not end well for the sitting president. Just ask Richard Nixon.
- There is absolutely nothing wrong with a bias, provided it is supported by substantial confirming evidence.
- Very recently, VP Pence and, Secretary of Defense General Mattis have spoken in ways that were designed to mitigate one or another of their boss’ rhetorical excesses that were the subjects of criticism by the media.