President Trump’s condemnations of the press as the enemy of the people has linked him immediately in some minds with dictators who have stifled the press as a means of controlling the people. Today’s press is far from stifled, however. If we never could have foreseen a president who so publicly maligns his enemies in the way that Trump does, should we have foreseen a network condemning him night after night or one defending him in the same manner? The bias is so widely accepted that it is taken as a given. But it is not the news.
Long gone are the days when news anchors simply reported the news and any brief commentary was clearly labeled as such. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, the death of the objective news report came when news coverage expanded to twenty-four hours. It is impossible to report the news twenty-four hours a day, so the anchors talk about the news and bring in panel after panel of “experts” to talk about it. I like as well as anyone to hear commentators who agree with me. I don’t object to commentary. I simply feel a line should be drawn between reporting events and expressing an opinion about them. The primary reason Russian infiltration of social media was so successful was that we grasp at “news” we want to hear and pass it along uncritically.
What about news outlets that try to be objective? Consider this recent headline from Vox: “Coverage of Trump’s latest rally shows how major media outlets normalize his worst excesses.” The news outlets referred to tried to be objective and were criticized for that. Newspapers early in this presidency had to decide how to report on what Trump said when it clearly was not true. The Vox article explains it this way: “Major media outlets have long struggled with how exactly to cover Trump, with the Times famously coming to the word ‘lie’ in a headline late, something the paper’s own public editor criticized it for. This effort to find euphemisms for the word ‘lie’ is actually normalizing his worst excesses. Coverage of this sort makes him seem like any other politician . . . [I]n their articles about the rally, CBS, USA Today, the Associated Press, and the Hill failed to so much as mention that Trump pushed a number of false claims.” Ironically, the press was one of the primary targets of Trump’s attacks at the rally. He referred to the members of the media in attendance as “sick people.”
In his letter resigning as Assistant Attorney General on April 29, Rod Rosenstein sums up the goal of the Department of Justice, which is also a worthy goal for members of the media working in a difficult political environment: “We ignore fleeting distractions and focus our attention on the things that matter, because a republic that endures is not governed by the news cycle.”
Photo Credit: “News Anchors” by Peter Alfred Hess on Flickr, 10/13/10 via a CC BY 2.0 license.