Crushing the US Press
When Trump bullied CNN reporter Jim Acosta on January 11, it was the most terrifying thing I’ve seen in a very long time.
Most of what Trump does is utterly empty. Trump’s tweets are just temper tantrums and advertising slogans: “America! Good to the last drop!”
His speeches and interviews are equally empty of content. Pundits like to take his blather and study it to try to discern what he may mean. How will “we’re going to replace it with something really great” affect actual health care?
Trump doesn’t give two hoots in a high wind about health care. When he and his wife go to the hospital for face lifts they commandeer an entire floor. You and I both know they don’t file insurance for that. Trump has one of “his people” write a check. His contempt for people who are not rich enough to do that is as deep as his contempt for John McCain, the wussy who got himself captured by the enemy and tortured for years.
McCain is a loser. If you need health insurance you, too, are merely a loser. “Replace it with something great” means Trump won’t suffer … so what’s your problem?
But I digress. His slogans are empty.
His tweets are remarkable because they exceed the bounds of human decency. They are rude, cruel, crass, boorish, and thoughtless. Yes, it’s disturbing that a president of the United States would behave like a spoiled child. At bottom, though, they have as much impact on US citizens as “Trix are for Americans!”
But watch the video. CNN had reported the existence of the “golden “shower” report but they wouldn’t print it because real news organizations don’t print unsubstantiated allegations. Buzzfeed is not a real news organization. They had no problem printing it and almost certainly designate a portion of their income for settling slander and libel lawsuits.
If Trump knows there is a difference between a professional news outlet and a scandal sheet, it’s irrelevant to him. Some news organization mentioned something unflattering and that is not to be tolerated.
Because he’s a narcissist, Trump is probably not aware that almost everything he says and does is unflattering. A courageous press will be unrelenting in its negative coverage.
Do we have a courageous press? I don’t think so. If they publish anything he doesn’t like he will pursue them. Just as he bullied Jim Acosta, he will try to bully all of them. He had Sean Spicer, his press secretary, warn the White House press corps that they must be more respectful of Trump or the entire press corps will be forced to set up their offices across the street and get all their news from press releases. They told Spicer to get stuffed but Trump is perfectly willing to do more than bellow in public.
This event was a prelude.
I learned a lot in the Bush years. I learned that the press doesn’t in the least mind reporting propaganda as news. They become stenographers for whoever is in power in exchange for “access.”
Josh Marshall, the editor of Talking Point Memo pointed out that the White House reporters really don’t need access. It’s nice to have, but they shouldn’t allow themselves to be manipulated. The problem is, that would require courage and I don’t think the press has any.
The White House press corps already has a strong tendency to take press releases — correct for spelling and grammar — and send them out as news. The temptation to do that during a Trump administration will be massive — far more than in the Bush era. Bush was a terrible president, but he was a southern gentleman and would never humiliate someone in public.
But courage? Even the New York Times used the White House-approved euphemism for torture. They used “enhanced interrogation” to describe waterboarding, stress positions, and outright brutality until Bush was out of office.
With Trump’s disgraceful public tantrum he set the tone for his relationship with the press and sent a clear message: “If you cross me, I will crush you.”
The American press as a whole will be a lot harder to crush than the Russian or the Syrian press. The US President doesn’t have the power of a dictator and there is a second-tier of internet journalists that can’t be shut up.
It’s hard to suppress news in the age of the internet, but we need an elite press corps that can’t be bullied. Getting through the coming years of scandal, petty vendettas, and chaos is going to require courage from all of us. That is doubly true of the people who keep us informed of what is going on with our government.
The elite press has a history of knuckling under in exchange for “access” and offering itself up to power pre-crushed.
And that’s terrifying.
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