On Thursday August 16, more than 350 newspapers across the country published editorials pushing back against Donald Trump’s dangerous attacks on the media.
There’s a lot to criticize in the American news media. TV coverage tends toward the trivial and the sensational. Newspapers slant the news, focusing on certain stories and overlooking others, putting certain stories on the front page and burying others.
What the American news media doesn’t do — with a few well-known exceptions such as Fox News and the National Inquirer — is print/broadcast “fake news,” a term injected into the public discourse by Trump to refer, not to anything false or untrue, but simply to coverage he doesn’t like. It’s part of his ongoing attempt to sabotage trust in the mainstream media in order to allow his followers to believe that what they read or hear is simply not true, while the litany of falsehoods spewed by Trump himself are.
Does the media make mistakes? Sure — who doesn’t? Is it biased? Of course. Most of the mainstream media was biased FOR Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, running far more negative news about his opponent and overlooking much of his shady background. Was any of this “fake”? No, although it was unbalanced.
It’s important to differentiate. When the New York Times blatantly slanted its coverage against Hillary Clinton, it did not print “fake” news. The bias was in how much it ran on what topics, where the stories were placed. For instance, before the election the paper ran five times more stories about the transparent, scandal-free Clinton Foundation, implying irregularities (while stating deep in the article that there was no evidence of such) than about the Trump Foundation, a self-dealing shell foundation now being sued by the state of New York.
Closer to home, I did a two-year study of the Plain Dealer’s bias (2007-2009), which leans clearly and strongly to the right, or if you prefer, toward the area’s wealthy and powerful, something no amount of “poverty porn” stories about families struggling to move to safer neighborhoods can conceal. I found misleading headlines, omissions of information that did not support something the paper was campaigning for (such as the county charter), and undue emphasis on certain things on the front page, while other equally or more significant stories were buried deep inside. What I did not find was “fake news.”
Interestingly, the PD kinda/sorta opted out of the coordinated national effort by writing a ludicrous “We have too much integrity to do this” piece. It hilariously branded the effort as an attack on Trump, thus PROVING its rightwing slant, and claimed that to join in was to somehow compromise its “watchdog” status, something it compromises constantly (its egregiously biased coverage of the tax-dollar giveaway to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert being one recent example).
Trump has now taken to calling the mainstream media the “enemy of the people,” an even more dangerous term than “fake news.”
“The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it’s TRUE,” Trump tweeted on August 5. “I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. They purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!”
This is an open incitement to violence. If someone is perceived an “enemy,” then violence becomes justified and righteous. Some fuss that such statements COULD lead to violence against journalists. We’ve crossed that line already. We’ve seen journalists under threat from crowds at Trump rallies, encouraged from the stage. We saw journalists killed at the Annapolis Capitol Gazette in June, perhaps not driven by political ideology but likely driven by a climate in which journalists are an “enemy” to be targeted for whatever grievance you may have. To an unbalanced person with a gun it’s all the same.
The real enemy of the people and the U.S. and democracy is anyone (such as Trump) who sabotages the media to the point where people create their own realities based on propaganda that fits what they WANT to believe, and further, encourages the most unhinged and reality-challenged of his followers to act on that fake worldview. After all it IS “war” and the “enemy” is “dangerous” and “sick.” No one who applies such terms to journalists deserves to be president.