If Trump gets to decide what's fake news, then journalism is dead – and so is the Republic

Today’s press conference makes clear why the American press must stand up and be reckoned with.

Have a quick look at today’s national disgrace.

No, not Trump, although he is certainly every inch a disgrace. Obviously his behavior – really, the entirety of the fact that we’re about to seat this man in the Oval Office – is a travesty. But the bigger disgrace is that after Donald shut down CNN’s Jim Acosta, calling the network “fake news,” another member of the press corps stepped in with a question. In doing so, the “reporter” validated Trump’s right to decide what is and is not news and completely abdicated her responsibility to act as a watchdog on government. (If someone can tell me who that woman was, I will gladly give her full credit here.) In essence, she acknowledged that the “press,” such as it is, answers to the whims of a petulant narcissist.

It does not matter what her question was. The only appropriate response in that situation was to either make a point of ceding her time back to Acosta or to ask his question for him. The press conference should not have proceeded until Trump was put on his heels.

Acosta later said reporters followed up his line of questioning (had the Trump campaign been in contact with the Russian government) as Trump was fleeing the scene of the crime, and Trump said no one “associated with him or his campaign was in contact with the Russians” during the campaign.

Journalists must counter this arrogance, and now. In the wake of the election we saw the emergence of the term “fake news” to characterize all the places cranking out absolute falsehoods in an attempt to sway voters (with enough blame falling on Facebook that they’re now working on ways of enhancing the reliability of what they allow in the newsfeed). Most of the guilty parties were, of course, Republicans.

Now Trump has gleefully appropriated “fake news” as a tool to avoid legitimate questions, to dismiss those who don’t report the way he wants them to.

Side Note: It’s a shame that CNN, which on most days is utter crap, gets to be the case study here because it gives them the chance to claim a moral high ground their actual work hasn’t earned them. If you spend years acting like BuzzFeed, don’t get all butthurt when people start treating you like BuzzFeed. (For a more detailed analysis on why CNN has no credibility, see this analysis from 2013.)

If this tactic is allowed to stand, then Trump will never again have to face a tough question, no matter what he does, and if the press doesn’t stand firm, then they will be complicit in what amounts to a “soft” coup of the Constitution and the Republic it defines.

Make no mistake – Trump will keep shouting “FAKE NEWS!” as long as it works. To the extent there are any real journalism outlets left, they need to stomp the balls off this strongarmed propaganda tactic, and today. This is the moment for them – CNN, ABC, NBC, Reuters, the Times, WaPo, ProPublilca, the Beeb, the Guardian, The Hill, Politico, as well as every independent reporter, every blog, everyone who imagines themselves to be in the truth business – to set aside any impulses they have driven by market competition issues and stand together on the side of facts and transparency.

I’d also add FOX News and Breitbart and their ilk to the list, and I’d do so by way of a question. Imagine that one day Trump is gone and he’s been replaced by, say, Chelsea Clinton or Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Michelle Obama or whoever else out there keeps you awake at night. How’s your world going to be if that person decides to play by the rules Trump laid down?

Give it some thought.

A lot of journalists have spent a lot of time feeling pretty damned righteous about their integrity, imagining how they’d stand proudly on the side of truth and justice, no matter, if the day ever came.

Well, folks. The day has come.

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