The Trump White House continues to fight an overwhelmingly hostile establishment media. During this battle, the president himself has enthusiastically exploited social media platforms – particularly Twitter – to take his message directly to the American people. Not content with merely reacting to negative media coverage, however, he is now taking the fight to the enemy with what has been labeled ‘Trump TV.’
Available on Facebook’s relatively new Live feature, the president presents videos from Trump Tower as the ‘real’ news on the achievements of his administration. Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, hosted the first slot – posted July 30 on Trump’s Facebook page.
There can be little doubt that ‘Trump TV’ will cover news that shines a positive light upon the president and his agenda. But is this inappropriate? Does it smack of state propaganda? What does it say about traditional media that the president thinks it necessary to put out his own news program?
Historically, United States presidents have distanced themselves from any attempt to regulate or silence the press. Thomas Jefferson, who suffered constant criticism in the papers of his day, refused to interfere with press freedom. Even though he once noted that the only truth to be found in newspapers was in the advertisements, Jefferson considered a free press vital to American society. He wrote extensively about his feelings on the subject, such as in an 1803 letter to the scientific journalist, Marc-Auguste Pictet.
It is so difficult to draw a clear line of separation between the abuse and the wholesome use of the press, that as yet we have found it better to trust the public judgment, rather than the magistrate, with the discrimination between truth and falsehood.
There is a long-accepted notion that the bedrock of a free society is a free press. The Founders acknowledged this. Nothing good, they well understood, can come of an attempt by the government to interfere with what journalists write or how they write it. They also realized, however, that the very freedom enjoyed by the papers would always tempt them to present whatever version of the ‘truth’ best reflected their own political opinions – perhaps even going so far as to disregard the truth altogether when it didn’t align with their own views.
With the larger part of the news media dedicated to slandering, smearing, mischaracterizing, and even bringing down this President, the playing field of information delivery is hardly level. Today, many in the media waste no time in pointing out that the First Amendment protects a free press. Yet those same people cannot, or will not, admit that the establishment media – except for a single cable news network – essentially operates as the propaganda wing of one political party. There is, therefore, no ‘free’ press until one looks for it beyond the traditional establishment media.
Back to Jefferson, who well understood this unholy alliance: “The most effectual engines for [pacifying a nation] are the public papers…” he wrote in 1785. “[A despotic] government always [keeps] a kind of standing army of newswriters who, without any regard to truth or to what should be like truth, [invent] and put into the papers whatever might serve the ministers.” More than any president in recent history, Barack Obama enjoyed the loyalty of this “standing army,” or reporters willing to shill for him at every opportunity.
What options, then, are available to a president who finds himself vehemently opposed and loathed by almost the entire national media? Obama used the pretext of national security to try to silence individual journalists and was roundly criticized – even by his loyalists in the press. In the information age, the best – and safest – recourse for Trump is to compete by disseminating his own version of the news. One may call it government propaganda but, up to the point that it becomes mandatory viewing or replaces, by law, other media sources, it is entirely fair and legal. Jefferson and other Founders understood that it is incumbent on the people to pay attention and make informed decisions on what is right and wrong, fair and unfair, truthful and inaccurate.
Trump TV is, doubtless, here to stay – at least for the next three to seven years. Kayleigh McEnany, previously the token Trump supporter at CNN, recently joined the venture. State-sponsored media often evokes forebodings of authoritarianism. When the larger segment of the ‘free’ press, however, has already chosen a political side opposed to the nation’s leader, why should that leader not have the option to compete in the free market of information?