Shortly after the real estate mogul became President-Elect Donald Trump, I wrote an article titled The State of the Media. Now that Trump has dropped the word “elect” from his title, it is time to re-evaluate. On Nov. 19, 2016, I exclaimed that I was “terrified due to the imperiled state of free press.” I understated the gravity of the situation. A Journalism Professor, Jay Rosen, of the Arthur L. Carter Institute at New York University explained in a blog post that “for a free press as a check on power this is the darkest time in American history since World War I, when there was massive censorship and suppression of dissent.” Rosen continued with a substantive list of his observations on the state of the media. It is too dense to accurately recount in this medium. If one desires to become better informed on this topic, I highly recommend reading Rosen’s post.
Here is where we stand today: the President of this country has now, in his first month, waged complete war against the mainstream media. President Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, utilized his first official appearance in that role to chastise the media. As Politico reports: “…Spicer immediately accused reporters of making inaccurate claims. He then proceeded to make no fewer than four inaccurate claims in five minutes and 30 seconds of speaking, took no questions, and left.”
If there was any productive component of that press conference, it was that it set the tone for the following week, and possibly the duration of President Trump’s administrations. A litter of combative statements by the White House shown by Spicer. The situation has escalated to the point where President Trump has declared that his administration is “at war with the media.” This claim was later emboldened by Steve Bannon, chief White House strategist, who said in an interview with The New York Times that “The media here is the opposition party…The media has zero integrity, zero intelligence, and no hard work.”
Many claim that Steve Bannon is the de-facto President of the United States of America. The New York Times’ Editorial board wrote “…we’ve never witnessed a political aide move as brazenly to consolidate power as Stephen Bannon.” Bannon has experience spreading a singular narrative, as the former editor of Breitbart, Ben Shapiro, describes Bannon’s relationship with fringe movements on The Daily Wire: “Bannon has openly embraced the racist and anti-Semitic alt-right – he called his Breitbart ‘the platform of the alt-right’.”
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), amongst other democrats, opposes Bannon’s position in the White House. He stated “There should be no sugarcoating the truth here: Donald Trump just invited a white nationalist into the highest reaches of the government.”
Why does this matter? This narrative of Breitbart, and now seemingly the White House, commonly contends with that of the mainstream media. The spread of information in our lives has been hindered. Lies have been repackaged as “alternative facts.” Whether or not this is a deliberate ploy to misinform the public, or the honest misunderstanding of truths from those in the Trump administration, it suggests that my assumptions in my previous article were correct.
The President of the United States is actively working to suppress competing narratives and calling for the American people to distrust the media. Gag orders show President Trump will do all within his power to silence those who oppose him. Ezra Klein of Vox explains the significance of this truth. Donald Trump has effectively “delegitimizing the institutions that might report inconvenient or damaging facts about the president is strategic for an administration that has made a slew of impossible promises and takes office amid a cloud of ethics concerns and potential scandals.” This will make it more difficult for an independent agency to investigate the government.
This proliferation of sources puts a cloud of doubt on the stories being reported by legitimate journalists. As I wrote in my previous installation of The State of the Media: fringe news sources push people to the extremes of their political ideology. They prevent discourse and encourage submission.
What can we do? Stay vigilant, skeptical, and informed. Respect journalists and support investigative reporting. These are going to be a tough four years. Without non-profits such as Pro-Publica, alongside competing, talented journalists such as those who work at The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Hill, Politico, etc. and fact checkers like PoliFact, the rise of kleptocracy is imminent.