- Views & Opinions
The 2016 campaign revealed many cracks in our democracy, but none more frightening than the media’s focus on pursuing its own ends rather than the public’s.
As CBS head Leslie Moonves admitted about Trump last February, “This is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going. …
“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
The result of the media’s self-dealing was Trump’s swearing in as president on Jan. 20.
No one can argue with a straight face that Trump’s policies, altruism, dignity, intelligence or experience landed him in the Oval Office. The institution once referred to as the Fourth Estate did all his heavy lifting, legitimizing Trump’s candidacy in spite of Trump himself.
Trump was just an ignorant, narcissistic racist without a filter before media pundits took it on themselves to create a horserace out of a no-brainer.
Why? Was it an effort to appear “neutral” that led respected media services to prop Trump up with false equivalencies that suggested his unprecedented deficiencies and Clinton’s garden-variety shortcomings were on the same playing field? Why did they characterize his grunts and stunts as legitimate rhetorical and political strategies?
If Trump had farted into a microphone on the campaign trail, the press would have been glowing with stories of his ingenious communication techniques. Some notable scholar would have compared the gesture to Abraham Lincoln’s off-color folksiness. And Trump would have lashed out at the sick, dishonest press for its failure to censor what was obviously intended only for those present at the unleashing.
Formerly respected newsrooms gave more ink and air time to Trump’s middle-finger-flashing tweets than to Clinton’s policy proposals and achievements. They glanced over his lawsuits, scandals, scams and lies. They discussed him as if he were a serious presidential candidate and, in so doing, they made him into one.
Why? Just listen to Moonves and follow the money.
Given this sorry journalistic performance, we had hoped the mainstream media might be chastened into covering the Trump administration honestly. But will it?
On Inauguration Day, network anchors gushed about the peaceful transition of power without mentioning the dangers that lay ahead. They praised Trump’s address, overlooking its frightening nationalism and divisiveness, as well as the troubling optics of the new president’s concluding closed-fist salute.
On Day One, it seemed the mainstream media intended to continue covering Trump’s presidency with the same faux tone of normalcy that helped elect the most dangerous man in memory to the most powerful position in the world.
The day afterward was no better. Editors allowed Trump’s false tweets and his press hack’s outright lies about inauguration attendance to draw attention from the millions of people who were at that same moment protesting the new president. More false equivalency and “neutral” coverage.
But then came the Sunday talk shows and newspaper editorials and it seemed the media was finally beginning to take seriously its important, constitutionally protected role in covering Trump’s reign. Perhaps they were signaling they wanted no part after all of the alt-factual world that the new president and his denizens inhabit.
We at the Wisconsin Gazette agree with Jack Shafer of Politico, and join him in reminding the mainstream, corporate media about what they must do. He said:
“Extraordinary times — and we are living in an extraordinary time — do not necessarily call for extraordinary measures on the part of the press, as comforting as a full berserking might make many of us feel. Extraordinary times like these call for normal measures: The meticulous, aggressive, and calm presentation of the news.”
The new president is not entitled to make up the number of people who attended his inauguration or investigate voter fraud that never occurred. He cannot take the kind of bullying we saw on the campaign trail into the people’s house.
As Dan Rather put it, “Facts and the truth are not partisan. They are the bedrock of our democracy.”
We beg our fellow journalists to keep this foremost in their minds and fight back against Trump’s Orwellian world.