Nathan Le Master
February 21, 2017
No junkie can cook a fix as potent as what Trump is to the media.
Just look at how profitable journalism has become in Trump’s America, whether it’s the two million raised by the The Young Turks, or the financial boon for older, establishment media like the Washington Post. Unless his successor proves to be more flamboyant than he (HA), it can’t be doubted that the media will truly miss the Donald when he’s gone.
As for now, it’d be criminally insane not to cover him. But in an overeagerness to be the next Woodward and Bernstein, reporters are too quick to pull the trigger at the next juicy Trump debacle-of-the-day. They shoot the arrow, paint the bullseye around it, then casually apologize once Americans see through the trick. Not the most tactful way to cover the news.
Russian malware hacking Vermont’s electrical grid. The BuzzFeed dossier. The NYT publishing tweets from a fake Twitter account purporting to be Michael Flynn. Between the Kremlin-hysteria in the drinking water and the media’s understandable paranoia at their nemesis in the White House, the MSM has been unprofessionally pumping out articles that are unverified or later falsified, often citing anonymous sources, claiming reasons of privacy (stating that an anonymous source told me X, Y, and Z, is much less persuasive than, say, Edward Snowden biting the bullet and putting his face on the Internet). When these outlets backpedal with an apology, it usually comes out as a tiny murmur that gets buried in the following day’s new cycle, which by then is one day too late. The damage is already wrought. Facebook users (unequivocally, the worst kind of media consumer) have already shared, liked, or commented on those initial articles that popped up in their feed, coloring everything.
Barrack Obama left the office with incredibly high approval ratings, yet it was his administration that used the Espionage Act of 1917 to target and prosecute more whistleblowers and journalists than all previous presidents combined, setting a dangerous precedent for a man obsessed with clogging the leaks coming out of his administration. And as fun as it is to make the Mussolini comparison, it has to be said that, unlike Il Duce, he hasn’t directly silenced the Fourth Estate. Maybe he hasn’t found an opportune time. I’d argue that his strategy is more subtle than that.
After the most stunning press conference in conceivable history, Trump tweeted:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017
Delegitimize the media. Convince the American people that they’re working against the people’s interest. During a rally in an airport hanger in Melbourne, Florida, Trump even evoked Thomas Jefferson in a quote, saying, “Nothing can be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself become suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”
It’s a cheap trick, but a clever one. Trump’s letting the errors of the press speak for themselves. And there sure are a hell of a lot of ’em. Now, for anyone who doesn’t typically follow the NYT, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, or any other liberal media outlet, this reinforces the world view of Trump and Trump-supporter as outsider, misunderstood and persecuted by an establishment elite and liberal culture, one that doesn’t take a step toward understanding them.
Trump is red meat, but we as media-consumers must resist the temptation of viciously devouring every latest defamatory Trump story because it tickles our ego or validates our beliefs. We have to try our hardest to steer clear of the confirmation bias that gives credence to Trump’s accusations. We have to be agnostic towards media establishments, holding them accountable for errors as we have in times past (remember mid-2000s Fox News?). Essentially, we have to develop media literacy.
Otherwise, we’re all losers.