observations and opinion
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If the last 18 months’ experience wasn’t enough of an education, Trump’s January 11th press conference ought to have driven home lessons to reporters and news outlets: if they play by Trump’s rules, Trump rules.
Mr. Trump is not the first US politician to engage in bad practices with the press, but he demonstrates a unique facility for, and comfort with, abusing reporters. He doesn’t answer questions he doesn’t like. When he does answer, he often (usually) lies. If particularly uncomfortable, he attacks the reporter – often with lies. We saw all this January 11th in his unholy smear of CNN’s Jim Acosta, whom Trump – with his unique shamelessness – accused of spreading “fake news.” (Full credit to Shep Smith of FOX, for calling Trump out on this).
The media must learn the lesson, now – finally – that they cannot continue to be sheepish and deferential with Trump. The Donald is a pure bully, an animal which interprets politeness as weakness, fairness as fear – and attacks. Trump requires unique management.
Reporters and their employers need to agree upon rules of engagement with the new President (and his spokespeople) that will keep a chain around the neck of the dragon. These are some approaches to reining in Trump (and when I say “Trump” I also mean his surrogates, press secretary et al):
This will take some guts. It requires the recognition that reporters, for all their flaws and vulnerability, are important and deserve respect. It requires a true understanding of the constitutional role of the reporter, not to repeat what the authorities have said, but to question it. Over and over and over again. That’s what the free press was intended to do.
Honest Democrats will admit that practices such as these would have done much to improve the performance of the Obama White House. Indeed, almost every political candidate and office holder deserves the kind of treatment outlined above. Who can you name, who does not lie, spin, dodge, blame and obfuscate? If there is someone, treat them as the exception, not the rule.
America’s news media long ago became megaphones for partisan and official spin. The era of cozy cooperation between power and the press has corrupted and defiled both. That unholy alliance has compromised American democracy. That was true under Bush 41, Clinton 42, Bush 43, Obama and would have been true under Clinton 45. Trump simply makes it more obvious that those responsible for this – the press themselves – must break the ties that bind. If they don’t, they have betrayed their social responsibility. And themselves.
The free press is constitutionally recognized and sacred. Journalists are critical to democracy. They cannot function if they are intimidated, excluded, bullied or silenced. Their employers and fellow reporters have to stand up for the people asking questions. They must demonstrate solidarity now, or they will be broken. As Ben Franklin said, they must all hang together or they will surely hang separately.