The vicious fight between President Donald J. Trump and the establishment media has been a highlight of the former’s election campaign and his first few months in the White House. Upping the ante Thursday, Trump raised the idea of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating the dissemination of “fake news.”
Most Americans are, rightly, horrified at the prospect of the federal government investigating the media. A free press is, after all, one of the cornerstones of any free society. How far does a supposedly free society allow the press to go, however, in shaping opinion? Journalists are, after all, unelected. As influential as the media has become in the cultural and political life of all Americans, is it not fair – perhaps even necessary – for media organizations to be held accountable for the consequences of that influence?
The Weaponization of the Media
Political bias has always been a hallmark of the press and, although this would not be the case, in a perfect world, it is an inescapable fact of life; journalists and editors are, after all, human beings with opinions and ideological allegiances.
The new technologies of the information age have become more and more pervasive, to the point where news, information, and opinion can be instantly and directly fed to every human being with an internet connection. At this point, the old rules and sentiments regarding the role of those who bring us the news must be re-evaluated.
Public opinion is now driven by news organizations more than at any time in human history. The media now has the power, not just to influence the political and cultural direction of the entire nation, but to shape it. Given that vast new power to help define the very future of human society, it seems naïve that journalists and news organizations would expect to maintain their status as being immune to government – or public – scrutiny.
Why Isn't the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2017
Former President Barack Obama enjoyed a level of media loyalty and adoration not experienced by any world leader in history, outside of dictatorships or other totalitarian governments. Indeed, that media became weaponized during the Obama years. Although the 44th president was known for his disdain of the media, it certainly did not arise from media hostility toward his administration.
Quite simply, Obama did not trust the press because he could not enforce its loyalty to him or to his agenda. This was a good thing, and the current president should not be able to do so, either.
Obama barely needed to, however; with the exception of Fox News, it was almost impossible to find a national media outlet that would harshly criticize Obama on any issue. For all intents and purposes, the highest tier of the news-reporting industry in the United States acted as a propaganda wing of the Obama administration and, by extension, the Democratic Party.
A Partisan Press is Not a Free Press
The prevailing political sympathies in the media have continued to move further left. As if this were not problematic enough for those who prefer their consumption of news to be untainted by political opinion, the media has blurred the lines between actual news and editorial. Even the still often heard term ‘mainstream media’ is no longer an accurate label. The opinions that drip from every so-called ‘news’ report from CNN, NBC, The New York Times, the Washington Post and others are certainly not ‘mainstream’ but, rather, somewhere to the left of where the Democratic Party itself stood, just ten years ago. Such entities may be described as ‘establishment media’ but ‘mainstream,’ they are not.
Trump came to power with a populist message, part of which included a healthy distrust of this establishment media. The political left’s answer to Trump’s ascension was ‘The Resistance,’ and it took little time for the media – already moving ever-further left – to openly praise, and even identify with, this ‘resistance.’ From then on, any illusions that these news organizations, print, and television alike, were operating as a ‘free press’ should have been dismissed.
While journalist actively attacked those, who opposed the Obama agenda, they gushed over the resistance to Trump. Any pretense at impartial reporting had been cast aside.
It is extremely hard to make the argument that the establishment media, with few exceptions, is not now entirely devoted to a campaign of relentless opposition to the President’s every word and action. Press criticism of Trump, or any president, is both vital and necessary. A truly free press has a duty to present all the facts, however – whether those facts shine a negative or a positive light upon the nation’s leader. Today’s establishment media has deliberately neglected this duty. Whatever the president says or does, these news organizations immediately assign themselves the task of putting a negative spin on the story.
If they cannot find something bad to say about a developing story, media entities will simply not report it or will shuffle it off to some small space at the foot of page seven. This is conduct unbecoming of a free press. When the press decides that the public should be told that everything is going wrong and never be told that anything is going right, it forfeits its privileged position as the untouchable purveyor of public knowledge.
The Media Becomes a Political Movement
A Pew Research Center study of media coverage of the president found that, out of 3000 news stories from 24 different outlets, only 5% of the stories covered Trump positively, while 62% covered him negatively. A study by the Media Research Center showed that 91% of the coverage of Trump and his administration was negative. Additionally, a large part of Trump’s negative coverage was personal – according to the Pew study – as opposed to focusing on policy.
This obsession with discrediting the president’s character, even more than questioning his policy decisions, is, perhaps, the most troubling indication of the media’s outright hostility. Interestingly – and not coincidentally – it exactly mirrors the tactics practiced by the Democratic Party and other left-wing organizations; take the focus off policy and go after the man, portraying him as unstable, dangerous, and authoritarian.
This coordination of strategy between media companies and the political opposition is obvious. It is proof – if further proof were needed – that the establishment media is openly operating as a wing of the leftist political movement,
When media personalities question the sanity and basic human decency of the president, based on mere emotion rather than compelling evidence, they have lost the right to consider themselves a protected class, as they have historically done.
Worst of all, when newspapers or television news networks distort facts or fabricate stories – attributing them to “anonymous sources” that cannot be verified – they deserve a level of scrutiny and investigation to which they were never subjected, previously.
Is the president’s call for Congress to investigate the media an empty threat, however? What, specifically, would Congress be investigating? This begins, perhaps, with inquiries into the flow of sensitive information between government officials and the press – and, also, between the opposition party and the press.
When a large part of the nation is led to believe something, based on ‘anonymous’ government sources – a belief that could influence elections and, therefore, the political direction of the entire country – it becomes necessary for both media organizations and government leakers to be held accountable for the accuracy of information divulged.
In truth, the traditional media is no longer free. Former Trump aide Steve Bannon told The New York Times that the media is the “opposition party.” Overwhelming evidence supports this statement. The question that needs answering is whether a certain section of the media has become so heavily invested in advancing one specific ideology that it should now be considered a political organization.